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

Posts tagged “great america

Get Paid to Scare People at California’s Great America

Do you think Halloween is the best time of the year?

Does the thought of scaring, startling or shocking people get you up in the morning?

Do you enjoy sliding across hard surfaces on your knees and hands, sparking all the way?

If so, you might want to consider a part time gig at California’s Great America – they’re still hiring for monsters, zombies and maze attendants as part of their Halloween Haunt event.

cgahaunt2009

As they say, the more monsters in the park, the merrier the experience will be – so apply today – and get paid for having fun!


Halloween Haunt has arrived at California’s Great America for 2014!

cgahaunt2009It’s baaack!

After an 11 month wait, Halloween fans can once again rejoice – the Haunt has returned to California’s Great America!

We’re in the park this evening as part of the media preview night – and if the hype is true – this could end up being the best Haunt in California. (That’s right – we said it, Knott’s fans…)

If you want to experience Haunt with us as-it-happens, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

For more sporadic updates throughout the evening, you can check out our Facebook or Google + page.

Also, be sure to check back here next week for a full review, including photos and interviews.

Happy hauntings, everyone! Buhahahaha!


How to Avoid Ticking Off Actors in Haunted Houses

Found this awhile back (thanks, Clayton!) but it’s quite relevant now – here’s the TOP 25 ways to avoid ticking off actors in haunted houses (and in the process, make your experience more enjoyable:

http://m.wikihow.com/Avoid-Ticking-Off-the-Actors-in-a-Haunted-House

600px-Avoid-Ticking-Off-the-Actors-in-a-Haunted-House-Step-23

Which one is your favorite? Tell me in the comments section, below:


Getting Even With Dad Filmed at California’s Great America

Theme and amusement parks tend to be great backdrops for films – unfortunately, so many of them are well, lackluster.

This is one of them.

Shortly after the production wrapped up on “Beverly Hills Cop III,” then Paramount’s Great America took a second swing at being in the movies, with the Macaulay Culkin comedy, “Getting Even With Dad.”

Getting_even_with_dad

At the time, Culkin was the hottest thing in Hollywood. His “Home Alone” series made him an instant sensation. Literally every studio was willing to pay big bucks to have him appear for them.

They probably should have thought about that a little bit harder…

Fun fact: “Fiddler’s Fling” at the park was renamed and rethemed to “Centrifuge” for the film – and the theme has stuck to this day.

543984_10151360872182286_1150377128_n

Unfortunately, just like it’s counterpart filmed at the same park, “Beverly Hills Cop III,” this film was also a commercial bomb at the box office, losing nearly $12 million for MGM back in 1994 (That’s nearly $20 million today). On Rotten Tomatoes, it’s overall rating reflects that.

So the next time you ride Centrifuge, know you’re riding a piece of Hollywood – at least a small piece of it. Just don’t expect Macaulay Culkin to be riding next to you…

10245529_10152027149657286_8923235215471956618_n


The Emotional Connection to an Amusement Park

I debated long and hard about putting out this post – I tend to be an intensely private person at times, but I feel that if I can share, maybe you’ll make the same emotional connection to a park on your next trip to your local amusement or theme park.

Ten years seems like forever when you say it. Broken down, it’s 3,652 days…520 weeks.

And yet, the biggest, sentinel moment in my life still feels like it was yesterday.

On August 1st, 2004, around 8:00am – I lost my mother to an aggressive, rare form of cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia (Learn more about it, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acute_myeloid_leukemia)

I would be lying if I told you it didn’t mess me up for the rest of my life. Under the stoic, proud face I put on was a terrified young adult – lost in the world without the woman who had given birth to me and frightened. To this day, I am still scarred and probably always will be.

So why do I share this story with you on my amusement and theme park blog?

Every summer, my sister and I would look forward to visiting our local parks with our family – when we were younger, we couldn’t afford season passes; we made it out to our local parks at least once a year, so each trip was extra special for us.

The last trip we made together as a family was in March of 2004, two months before her initial diagnosis and four before she passed. I was working at the time at (then) Paramount’s Great America, and the park was holding it’s annual “Employee Day”  a week before it opened to the general public. It was basically a dress rehearsal to iron out any issues before the public saw the park for the first time that year.

That’s when we took this photo…(Dad was behind the camera):

No caption could contain the emotion that this photo brings back to me and my family.

No caption could contain the emotion that this photo brings back to my family and I. It still brings me to tears.

For me, this is the moment that I can argue how a park can become much more than just a place to have fun. It’s a repository of our collective memories; they’re time capsules into what makes us human. And despite being 3,652 days removed, the memories for me are still as strong as ever.

And so, ten years after the sentinel moment in my life, I was once again out at California’s Great America – having fun and enjoying myself with friends. Why? Because I know she wouldn’t want me to mope around – so I didn’t.

While this past week was a very difficult one emotionally, as it is every year on or around August 1st – I can take solace in photos and memories like these…remembering the good times, the smiles and most importantly the love. And that’s the true, authentic park experience for me – how about you?

I love you Mom – then, now and forever.


Great America Pavilion the pregame destination for San Francisco 49ers fans this season

Pavilion-Rendering-1Banner-Revised5

If you’re a California’s Great America fan – it’s time to start cheering. Literally and emphatically.

Yesterday, the park announced that in addition to becoming “the official amusement park of the San Francisco 49ers,” (as if there was any doubt) they will soon be opening the “Great America Pavilion,” an 18,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose facility that will be home to the Red Zone Rally pregame event for all 49ers home games, as well as other Levi’s® Stadium events.

“We’re very excited to be partnering with the 49ers on the Red Zone Rally pregame events,” said California’s Great America Vice President & General Manager Raul Rehnborg. “For 49ers fans and attendees of other Levi’s® Stadium events, Great America Pavilion will be the perfect venue to enjoy the game-day atmosphere, dine on delicious food offerings and easily access Levi’s® Stadium, which is located adjacent to the new facility”

“The Red Zone Rally will be a tremendous pregame destination for 49ers fans,” said 49ers Chief Operating Officer Al Guido.

During 49ers home contests, the Red Zone Rally at Great America Pavilion opens three hours prior to kickoff, features flat screen televisions throughout, San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders and alumni, an array of live entertainment, interactive activities and incredible dining options.

Revised - Pavilion-Rendering-3

And when the stadium isn’t in use – the park now has a completely upgraded meeting and dining facility, that can be divided into three distinct areas or combined into one incredibly large venue. Oh, and the first event has already been held in the nearly-finished facility…Coaster Con XXXVII.

So yes, it’s not a new hyper coaster or ride – but it’s more important than that – it signals (quite clearly) a fundamental shift in the relationship between the San Francisco 49ers and Cedar Fair. Specifically, this announcement has far-reaching implications for the long-term future of the park – all positive in nature. Gone are the days of Cedar Fair Corporate (Dick Kinzel in particular) berating and indeed SUING the 49ers over a litany of issues.

It’s quite obvious that new Cedar Fair CEO, Matt Ouimet, has seen the San Francisco 49ers not as the enemy, but rather as a lucrative and positive business partner – and that can only bode well for a park that many (myself included) wrote off only seven years ago. (Lord knows Dick Kinzel tried to literally write it off according to my sources).Resized - Pavilion-Rendering-6(1)So on the outside it may appear to just be an expansion of a picnic pavilion – but this announcement means the world to a park that’s on one hell of a kickoff return.

For more information on the Red Zone Rally, visit: www.49ers.com/tickets

For more information on Group Sales at the park, visit: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/group-sales


Coaster Con XXXVII in the Bay Area this week

All this week, Great American Thrills will be bringing you insider coverage from Coaster Con XXXVII – the biggest event on the American Coaster Enthusiasts calendar – and the first time ever the event has been held exclusively in Northern California.

rd9o

From behind the scenes tours, special VIP events and even a few surprises along the way…stay tuned to Great American Thrills as we update the site every evening.

You can also follow our social media accounts – as we’ll be updating LIVE as we can with these hashtags across all the platforms:

#CoasterCon

#GreatAmericanThrills

#LostParks


Aerial Ice Extreme Wows Guests at California’s Great America

Spotlights, trampolines, aerialists, giant hula hoops.

No, you haven’t gone to Las Vegas, you’re in California’s Great America, experiencing the brand new “Aerial Ice Extreme” show in the Great America Theatre.

oniracom_design_aerialiceextreme_logoV2c

After the resounding successes of both, “On Broadway” and the surprise sleeper hit, “Blades of Horror” the bar was set quite high for California’s Great America and its entertainment department to outdo itself this season. Spearheaded by Entertainment Director, Clayton Lawrence, guests over the past few seasons have seen a resurgence of quality, entertaining shows once again grace the park’s theatres.

So – would this one continue the upward trend? Read on…

Initially making a splash on “America’s Got Talent” this past summer, “Aerial Ice” combined the majesty of both ice skating (on a synthetic surface) as well as aerialists overhead. And it made an impression:

While the mishmash of ice skating, acrobatics and aerialists may seem a bit improbable – it all works out. The show is bound to draw comparisons to “Cirque Dreams: Splashtastic” that performed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom this past season.

But, unlike “Cirque” which seemed to have way too much happening at the same time at many points – “Aerial Ice Extreme” keeps the action frenetic – but at the same time, easy to follow. You never feel as if you have “lost” yourself in the action of the show (and that’s a good thing.)

The show’s location at California’s Great America also throws in an additional wrinkle – several choreographed transitions between the synthetic (fake) ice and the real stuff. Speaking from experience – there’s a difference between the two – and to be able to make it look seamless is nothing short of impressive.

What’s more exciting, is that the ice rink – absent for decades in this theatre – has been fully utilized now for several seasons in a row. Not only is it a great place to cool off in the hot summer, but let’s face it – it’s just COOL to watch!

With the park now open for full-time operation, be sure to check out the show schedule ahead of time, as there may be days in which the theatre goes dark.

Trust me – you don’t want to miss this entertainment event the next time you visit the park.


North Korea’s Great America?

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

World's Tallest Carousels

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

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

Kaeson Youth Park Carousel Columbia

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

Kaeson Youth Park Carousel Columbia

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

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


Could Cedar Fair offer a “California Season Pass” instead of a Platinum Pass?

I travel fairly often to visit amusement and theme parks – that’s no secret. But I’m also a big fan of getting the most bang for my buck, especially in this economy. Case in point:

Cedar Fair, L.P. currently offers three different levels, or tiers of season passes:

Your standard SEASON pass, which gets you admission into a single park.

The GOLD Pass, which in NorCal gets you admission to: California’s Great America, Halloween Haunt, Gilroy Gardens and free parking at each park.

And finally, the PLATINUM Pass, which gets you admission and free parking to ALL the Cedar Fair owned parks.

Most of us in California, however – never get a chance to leave the Golden State, which makes upgrading to a PLATINUM pass very cost prohibitive, considering the next closest Cedar Fair park besides Knott’s – is World’s of Fun…in Missouri.

That's a long road trip to use your Platinum Pass to it's maximum potential.

That’s a long road trip to use your Platinum Pass to it’s maximum potential.

That being said, I believe there’s room for Cedar Fair to debut a fourth tier of passes – the CALIFORNIA Pass.

It could be positioned between the GOLD and PLATINUM passes, in terms of perks and pricing. In addition to all the benefits of a GOLD pass, it would also get you admission and parking at Knott’s Berry Farm and Soak City Water Park.

Now for most people, this doesn’t seem like much to add for it’s own tier – but since the West Coast parks are so far separated from the rest of the chain in terms of distance and topography, most California park fans are content to stay IN the state and will never be able to get the full benefits out of a PLATINUM pass, unlike their counterparts in the Midwest and on the East Coast, where parks are only a drive’s day (or less) away.

As a result, they may not upgrade to the higher cost tier, and forgo even visiting the other parks in California, where they could be spending money. Of course, on the flip side, if a CALIFORNIA pass was added, I know that I’d be much more willing to upgrade to it and happily drive more often to SoCal to get my Xcelerator and Monte fixes MUCH more often.

Xcelerator at Knott's Berry Farm. Photo by Kris Rowberry. All rights reserved.

Xcelerator at Knott’s Berry Farm. Photo by Kris Rowberry. All rights reserved.

What do you think – would YOU purchase a CALIFORNIA pass if it was offered? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, or reach out to us on our SOCIAL MEDIA pages, too!


Beverly Hills Cop 3 Filmed at Great America 20 Years Ago

The mid-nineties were awesome. Nickelodeon was just hitting its stride. The Soviet Union was no more. And a movie studio had just purchased the entire Kings Entertainment amusement park empire – with the intention of turning them into THEME parks.

With Paramount at the helm, the former Kings parks became valuable assets in terms of new shooting locations for films. Considering the advertising slogan at the time, “Where the magic of the movies meets the thrills of a lifetime” – it would only make sense that a feature film would eventually be made inside one of Paramount’s parks.

And in 1994, that’s exactly what happened at Great America. Coincidentally, a film was being pitched to the major L.A. studios at the same time. Essentially, it was “Die Hard,” but at an amusement park. Paramount looked to their stable of franchises to see if the concept would work, and they found their answer with, “Beverly Hills Cop 3.”

The film is all but forgettable when it comes to plot – and its effect on the cinema landscape is minimal at best. In fact, it only has a 10% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was also a flop at the box office, losing $8 million domestically. It eventually made money after being released worldwide – but was still the least successful of the three “Beverly Hills Cop” films.

However, if you’re a fan of California’s Great America…it’s a literal time capsule into the Santa Clara park at the beginning of the Paramount-era. The scenic railway is still there, Vortex is still green! But arguably, the most memorable scene in the film features one of the most beloved attractions to ever grace the Great American skyline.

In it, Axel attempts to escape pursuing Wonder World security guards by jumping onto “the Spider” a large, three-armed Ferris Wheel that us locals know better as the “Triple Wheel.” (Gurnee fans know it as the “Sky Whirl”) However, one of the ride cabins begins to come loose, with two young children trapped inside.

Axel somehow exits his locked cabin, (through the magic of Hollywood) and slides down to the hub of the ride. From there, he ascends up the other arm, rescues the children and rappels down to the ground, just moments before the cabin smashes down.

Sharp eyed viewers will spot famous film director, George Lucas in this scene as well.

As for the Triple Wheel, the constant starts and stops required to get these exciting scenes may have contributed to the ride’s early demise. The attraction was designed to run continuously throughout the day – and the necessary re-takes and repositions were hard on both the hydraulics and motors. The Triple Wheel was dismantled after the 1997 season, to make way for Invertigo, which itself was removed after the 2011 season.

Currently, the site of the ride remains empty, however it is used for “Friday Night Flicks” during the summer.

Photo by: California's Great America

Photo by: California’s Great America

While the rumor mill is always churning out stories about new attractions coming to this area – long-time fans of both Great Americas always hold out hope that someday, they’ll round Hometown Square and hear that unmistakable whine in the park once again:


Architect Envisioned Massive Coasters for Golden Gate, Bay Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge Roller Coaster

From the people who brought you the massive Hangar One at Moffett Field, The Empire State Building and Hoover Dam, comes arguably the grandest, most scenic (and most insane) roller coaster idea of ALL TIME!

Golden Gate Bridge Roller Coaster

The proposed “Bridge Coasters” would not only break current coaster records – they would obliterate them – 75 years before the records were even set! Photo from the California State Archive

The stats for this proposed duo of coasters are simply staggering. 1,000 feet tall – 750 foot drops – a 190 mph top speed. Even by today’s standards, these two coasters would have easily kept their records for height and speed.

By comparison, the Transamerica Pyramid – which was built in 1972 and is the tallest building in San Francisco – is 850 feet tall.

The tallest roller coaster in the world currently is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure. It tops out at a measly 456 feet high. Formula Rossa in the UAE is the fastest in the world, at a yawn inducing 149 mph. Heck, even the “bunny hills” on these coasters were proposed to do 40 mph over them…at 1,000 feet in the air!

Photo copyright 2007, Kris Rowberry. All rights reserved

Double the height of Kingda Ka, and it still wouldn’t be as tall as the proposed “Golden Gate Thunderbolt” roller coaster!

Where do I line up?

The folks in the Depression sure thought bigger than we do today, and it’s understandable. It was a dark time for America – and people needed something – anything – in order to lift their spirits. What better way than to build something that was (and may never be) seen by human eyes?

I’m not exactly sure how they would have propelled the ride at such speeds, or how to get it up there to begin with – I know for a fact that Cal OSHA would laugh the proposal right out the door in today’s litigious world…not to mention it’s pretty clear the physics of a ride with that much wind resistance would never be able to complete its circuit!

Ironically, two identical roller coasters WERE built at each of the 1939 Expositions in New York and San Francisco. After the fair ended in New York, the ride was eventually moved…to Riverside Park in Massachusetts, eventually becoming Six Flags New England – where it still runs today as – you guessed it – “Thunderbolt,” the same name proposed for the rides on the bridges.

Thunderbolt at the 1939 SF Exposition

This exact coaster layout, which ran at both 1939 Expositions in New York and San Francisco still runs at Six Flags New England, as “Thunderbolt,” an ACE Coaster Classic. (Shot from SF Exposition)

Photo by Kris Rowberry, all rights reserved.

Thunderbolt at Six Flags New England. Photo by Kris Rowberry, all rights reserved.

And yes, you can expect this and many other amazing nuggets of coaster knowledge and “what if” history to appear in an upcoming episode of the “Lost Parks of Northern California” series!

Read the whole article, from KPIX-5 in San Francisco, here, or just copy and paste the link below:

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/11/22/designer-once-envisioned-massive-coasters-on-golden-gate-bay-bridges/


Guiding “The Coaster Guy” around California’s Great America

Recently, I had the pleasure to give a “Grand Tour” of California’s Great America to “The Coaster Guy.” Kurt runs a very in-depth site that focuses on his home park, Six Flags Magic Mountain – but also covers other parks that he visits in his travels.

cga_tr_20130922_36

Photo by The Coaster Guy – used with permission.

If you’ve never been to his site, I HIGHLY recommend taking a few minutes to go over there and peruse it.  It’s always great to meet up with like-minded enthusiasts – and especially ones who share the same passion for parks that I do. I just hope I didn’t make him completely sick showing him all the intense flat rides at the park!

Kurt, I promise that I’ll make it out to Magic Mountain – and look forward to a “smooth” free fall on Drop of Doom!

For more information or to see the Great America update, visit: www.theCoasterGuy.com


The Demon Song and Soundtrack

In honor of Halloween’s approach, what better way to theme your own, personal Haunt than by using the complete, original 1980 soundtrack from the line of the Demon at both Great America’s.

Yes, the “Demon Song” has been online for some time – but not the whole, nearly 30 minute queue recording, so enjoy!

A word of warning – this track is seriously corny!


The People Behind “Lost Parks” and the Manteca Waterslides

Despite how it may look, there are many, MANY people who are involved in the production of “Lost Parks of Northern California.”

Without them, I would not be able to look as good as I do presenting it. With that, here are all the people it took to bring the Manteca Waterslides episode to life:

Al Garcia, Waterworld California: A big thanks goes to my longtime friend Al Garcia, who is the Marketing Sales Coordinator for the park. He gave us his personal stories of Manteca – in addition to allowing us to capture some unbelievable angles of the water slides in his park – including this particularly moist one. Visit his park (when it’s open) at: www.waterworldcalifornia.com

Roger Ross & Ryan Davies, California’s Great AmericaFor allowing us to film inside their Boomerang Bay water park and make that historical connection to the slides in Manteca, I am forever indebted to you both. Here’s hoping that we get to work together again soon, or maybe even catch a Sharks game together this season. Visit their park at: www.cagreatamerica.com

Mike Brown and the Entire Brown Family: Mr. Brown – thank you for giving us the opportunity to share your family story with us – and thank you even more for opening up to us about all the history you hold in your memories. I can always say that I hung out with the owner of the Manteca Waterslides, and bought him lunch, while we shared stories and went through old photo albums. We will wear our Manteca “Anniversary” hats with pride.

Debby Moorhead, Vice Mayor of Manteca: Debby was crucial to us tracking down and getting permission from the current owners of the slides, as well as a great interview and one of the few, genuine politicians we’ve ever met. Sounds like Manteca is THE place to be in the coming years…we can’t wait!

ProAM USA: There is no way we would have been able to capture some of the beautiful shots in this video without winning a Facebook contest from these guys. (Seriously, we actually won a Facebook contest and got a camera crane!) Our new DVC60 camera jib was put through it’s paces this episode and we cannot wait to see what else we create with it.

Oh, and we’d love to model some of your other products, by the way…

Robert Ingle: Those promotional photos of me in the slides “acting” were all captured by Robert – who’s got quite the eye for awesome photos. But, his real skill is to blend in so I don’t even realize he’s taking my picture. I think there’s a career for you at TMZ if you’re interested, Robert.

And for those of you wondering, it’s Robert’s face that closes out the first episode in the credit roll…

Taylor Evans: I’ve never had a script supervisor before – but if I ever can hire one, it would be Taylor. He kept me on track and motivated as best as the Costco hot dog I bought him for lunch. For such complex shots, he was able to let me relax and do my thing, while he made sure the script still made sense. He also was responsible for the “summer winding down” edit that we thankfully caught that day.

And finally, I’ve saved the best for last – and with good reason, too.

1003062_526356200770740_1215406743_n

Getting direction from Nicholas, with Taylor holding the sun reflector. (Photo by Robert Ingle)

I first met Nicholas Laschkewitsch a little less than a year ago – and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to partner with on this series.  We’re three episodes into this once “little” project – and he somehow continually finds ways to both amaze and astound me with his work, both as a cinematographer, video editor and field producer.

This, mind you – without any professional training or experience. Nicholas simply has an eye for good work – and I could not be more fortunate to have found him and work with him on this series. He is just as much responsible for the success of this series as I am in front of the camera and doing research. Here’s to many more fun projects with the best producer I could ever have asked for.

If you haven’t seen how all these people came together on this project – look no further!


Halloween Haunt 2013 at California’s Great America

cgahaunt2009

In only a few, short years, Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America has gone from two “hand me down” mazes from Knott’s Berry Farm to easily the de facto Halloween event in Northern California.

Now with eight (8) mazes, three dedicated “scare zones” and enough fog machines and tinted lighting to make any rock concert jealous – the Haunt is now worthy of being up for comparison to the event that initially spawned it in Southern California.

The entertainment begins just as you enter the front gate to the park. Fire cannons (yes, you read that correctly) have been installed along the reflecting pool of Carousel Columbia. Never did I think I would feel the heat of flames on a relaxing ride like Columbia – then again, this IS Haunt. Consider walking into Carousel Plaza your “baptism by fire” to Haunt. The only thing that would make it better would be to run the carousel backwards.

To the right of the carousel, lies the first of two new mazes this year, “Dia de los Muertos.” As you can imagine, it’s a Latin themed maze, complete with Spanish-talking zombies and dizzying effects. The artwork alone makes the maze worth going into (and we STRONGLY recommend getting a pair of 3D glasses for $1.00 at the entrance). Those 3D glasses can also be used in the “CarnEVIL” maze in Orleans Place.

At the back of the park lies Zombie High, the other new maze for 2013. The building, which lies behind the Grizzly roller coaster, was built specifically for this maze, but I imagine it will double as a Haunt storage warehouse in the off-season. Considering all the material necessary to pull this event off now – it would make sense to expand the “backlot storage” the park currently has.

“Zombie High” is modeled after Shows Director, Clayton Lawrence’s old high school, down to the mascot. Of course, I’m guessing he didn’t have all the zombies and blood, there. See if you can catch all the inside jokes and macabre humor – just don’t upset the Principal.

The eight mazes and elaborate theming in the park would have been enough to placate most Halloween fans – but then California’s Great America did something celebrated by park fans and observers…they didn’t stop there.

Back in March, Park Spokesperson Roger Ross stressed that, “Cedar Fair is committed to California’s Great America. We’re replacing roofs…there’s fresh paint everywhere.” And you know what? He wasn’t kidding. That same spirit and drive to revive the park to it’s former glory and true potential is clearly evident in all aspects of the Haunt this year. Did you really need fire cannons at the front entrance? Not really – but who the hell cares – they’re freaking awesome!

In addition to the two new mazes and amazing theming throughout the park, Great America now offers a pre-scare meal, dubbed “Madame Maries Voodoo Chophouse.” The $22.99 add-on to your admission includes: early entry to the park, an all-you-can-eat, cajun-themed buffet, single “Fright Lane” entry to a maze of your choice and apparently very exclusive ride time on Gold Striker!

Now, most buffets at amusement parks are well – not worth writing home about. But, this meal included: fried catfish, creole, biscuits, prime rib(!) and soft drinks among other items. There’s even a chocolate fountain, complete with fruit and other dessert options. It shattered my notion of what I could eat an an amusement park outside of the Disneyland Resort. The park also offers a “Fright Feast” for $13.99, with more standard, picnic grove food options.

But the two new mazes, elaborately-themed buffet and exclusive ride time on Gold Striker was NOT the highlight of the night. That honor was reserved for the masterfully choreographed ice show, “Blades of Horror.”

Yes, you read right – an ICE show at a Halloween event. Stay with me, people…

A combination “Cirque” style show with an intriguing storyline, “Blades of Horror” is easily the best show I have seen at California’s Great America, going back to the KECO days of the late 1980’s.

The talent is largely local and according to many staff members, the show was largely driven by the performers simply wanting to keep performing. It has the look and feel of a large budget show you’d catch in any Las Vegas resort – and yet it’s right here, in the middle of Haunt. The acrobatics, aerials stunts and exhibitions of these actors is nothing short of spectacular. The grand finale alone is something that simply cannot be missed and may never be duplicated again.

There you have it – not one, but no less than five incredible reasons to visit California’s Great America and their burgeoning Halloween Haunt event.

As the days get closer to Halloween, it’s best to schedule your visit on either a Sunday or better still – visit as soon as possible. The crowds will only get larger as the holiday approaches, and so does the cost of admission.

Oh, and don’t show up to the park on Halloween – Haunt runs through October 27th.

Halloween Heads – it’s time to get out to California’s Great America – and get your scream on.

– – –

Learn more about Haunt and it’s incredible entertainment and food options here: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt


Lost Parks, Episode 3: “Manteca Waterslides”

I am proud today to release our third episode in the “Lost Parks of Northern California” series, focusing on the “famous” Manteca Waterslides!

Learn how the modern water slide was born just off of Highway 120 in Manteca, where you can still go to experience pieces of the park today and why people still call the chamber of commerce, asking about the slides…nine years after the park closed for good.

This was on all accounts – the most difficult video we have produced thus far. The technical aspects alone were enough to make both myself and my producer, Nicholas Laschkewitsch throw a fit. But, we persevered – and are proud to show you our work of the past few months.

“The Lost Parks of Northern California” is produced in association with the American Coaster Enthusiasts, Northern California region. Learn more about them at: www.acenorcal.org


Renewing a Classic Coaster

Fans of classic roller coaster designs rejoice – one of the original looping coasters has received a new lease on life.

If you’re a hardcore roller coaster fan – you should instantly recognize the the motion being mimicked in this commercial – for the uninitiated, it’s the famous profile and movements of the Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop.

Sadly, only half of the installations of this compact, but thrilling ride remain in the world today. The one we’ll be focusing on resides at Walibi World in Belgium.

The ride, originally called “Turbine,” had been closed since 2008, when parts simply ran out to repair the ride. (Schwarzkopf went under well over a decade ago). But the park had an idea – they contacted current coaster manufacturer Gerstlauer and asked, “Could you modernize the launch system on ‘Turbine’ to make it faster, more reliable and cheaper to operate?”

Turns out they could!

With a newer, more reliable launching system, utilizing all of the original track, mind you – Walibi went a step further, by giving the attraction an entirely new theme and completely enclosing the ride’s track. “Turbine” would enter the new millennium with a modern, linear induction launch system and be re-born as “Psyké Underground,” a dance club themed coaster.

Now at first thought,  the theme might be a bit too much – a bit “over hip,” if you will. But after seeing the effects and how they work in tandem with the storyline of the ride – well, it WORKS!

For fans of this type of ride (and you know who you are), you’ll also be happy to know the ride still goes “all the way” up the back spike as well.

With the success of this transformation, my attention turns to another classic shuttle loop that has cheated the wrecking ball several times: “Montezooma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm.

Because Schwarzkopf went out of business in the mid-1990’s, many of the parts for the ride have become scarce or must be manufactured in-house at enormous expense. When the clutch for the flywheel system burned out in the mid-2000s, many fans wondered if the ride would simply be removed, because of the lack of available parts.

With the recent closure of “Greezed Lightning” at Kentucky Kingdom, many of the parts and indeed the train from that ride (which itself was a combination of the original “Tidal Wave” weight drop shuttle loops from the two Marriott’s Great America parks) were purchased and shipped to Knott’s earlier this year to assist in keeping “Monte,” as it’s affectionately known, up and running.

Built in 1978, it’s the last flywheel shuttle loop of it’s kind in the United States, and one of only TWO left operating in North America).

“Montezooma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm utilizes a flywheel clutch launch system – the very same system that Walibi World replaced on “Turbine” with more powerful and modern linear induction motors.

A modification and modernization such as the one done to “Psyké Underground” in Belgium not only could keep the ride around for many more years, but could also significantly lower overall operating costs. No need to enclose the ride – though it would certainly make for a different riding experience with those strobe lights in a tube!

Now, I know, it’s not the “classic” launch system…but to me – it’s still the same ride if the track layout and design isn’t modified. The renovation done at Walibi World just goes to show, that a brilliant design, no matter the age, will ALWAYS stand the test of time!

And for those who are fans of the bouncy, modern dance soundtrack for the ride, you can find it here and on iTunes:


Image

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.

IMG_6337

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


Video

Featured on “This Week in Photo” Podcast!

If you haven’t already, check me out on the “This Week in Photo” podcast! We’ll discuss photo composition, the impetus for me getting into photography…and of course, nausea.

Enjoy, everyone!

Learn more about Frederick’s work at: www.thisweekinphoto.com


Ride Review: California’s Great America – The Grizzly

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry

When I attended a construction tour and park preview at California’s Great America this past winter, it was announced that the Grizzly (the park’s perennially basement dwelling wooden coaster) was completely overhauled and had, in fact, been sped up by nearly 12 seconds.

Understandably, there were grumbles and guffaws from the audience. After all, this was a coaster that had finished DEAD LAST in many coaster polls for DECADES. At one point, you have to think the park should have thrown a faux celebration at that dubious honor, right?

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry.

Really?!? Grizzly is so boring you can text while on it? I disagree.

However, I am happy to report that the Grizzly, at the mid point to it’s operating season – is running smoother, faster and better than I can ever remember. (And I remember RIDING it in the 1980’s!)

But wait – there’s more!

It’s also moving so fast (from what it was before) that it’s actually placing some nice g-forces on riders in the lower turnarounds.

You read right – Grizzly, a coaster that was smoothed out from it’s original design to be more “family friendly” in the 1980’s – is becoming more and more forceful with every day she’s running. (And that’s a GOOD thing!)

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry

Smiles, not grimaces now adorn riders of the Grizzly.

Will it ever compete with Gold Striker on thrills? Absolutely not – even with extensive re-profiling to match more closely to the ORIGINAL Grizzly design at Kings Dominion in Virginia – to compare Gold Striker and the Grizzly is unfair.

However, with two very re-rideable wooden coasters now in the park, the Grizzly makes for a perfect “starter” coaster for the enthusiast in training, who’s not quite ready yet to “strike gold.”

Now, if only the park could speed up dispatches by doing away with those unnecessary second and THIRD seat belts…


Gold Striker Closed Only Temporarily for Modifications

After two weeks of soft testing, a lavish grand opening ceremony and over a month of regular operation, the Gold Striker wooden roller coaster at California’s Great America is closed temporarily to allow for additional sound mitigation to be placed on the ride. But don’t hit your panic buttons – published news reports say the ride is expected to be back up and running by the July 4th holiday – NOT an extended, unknown period.

According to the City of Santa Clara’s “Smart Permit” website, Gold Striker had several criteria to meet in order for it to open permanently, the biggest of which states: “Should the additional testing reveal that the coaster is not in compliance with Condition 23 (amount of sound coming from the ride) or any applicable City ordinances, Cedar Fair shall undertake Remedial Measures, as defined in the Settlement Agt Agreement.” Apparently, the ride was just shy of making all those criteria.

Many industry watchers and local boosters see this addition to the park (and the subsequent work to ensure everyone is satisfied) as a serious commitment from corporate owner Cedar Fair, LP to both the park and the local economy.

“Cedar Fair elected to close the ride to install additional sound mitigation upgrades,” said Santa Clara Mayor, Jamie Matthews. “Those upgrades should bring the ride into full compliance with the previous settlement. I’m hoping to see it open here for the 4th of July.”

He added, “I am very happy with the way this is situation is working out – it shows responsible citizenship – that we can all work together and come to a solution.”

Noise Tests at California's Great America. Photo (C) 2013, Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills. All rights reserved.

A man with recording equipment and headphones monitors the noise coming from Gold Striker from one of Prudential’s buildings.

Since “soft-opening” in May, Gold Striker has seen major additions, most notably the addition of plywood walls and white foam along the sides and underside of the track. By coincidence, these spots pass closest to or face the buildings located on Great America Parkway. During initial construction, the park added what was dubbed an, “initial descent tunnel” onto the first drop of the ride. This feature was presumably added to mitigate the sound from the first drop of the ride.

Trying to build this ride has been quite the roller coaster ride in and of itself – the plans go back to 2007, when the park first began the permitting process. In addition to the standard permits, three hearings were held on potential noise levels – all of which were initiated by appeals from the owners of the buildings closest to the proposed ride.

Billy D’Anjou, a local roller coaster enthusiast, has logged 80 circuits on the coaster since it opened in May and is hoping to hit his 100th ride in July.

“I personally don’t mind more enhancements (to the ride) but I think the whole noise mitigation issue has gotten out out of control,” he said. “In the end it makes me worry what limitations Great America will have in the future. (Prudential) should expect noise from a theme park. It’s not a library or fine art museum.”

Gold Striker at California's Great America. Photo (C) 2013 Kris Rowberry & Great American Thrills. All rights reserved.

Gold Striker thrills riders on a recent operating day.

Gold Striker is the first wooden roller coaster built in Northern California since 1999. It boasts the tallest and fastest drop in Northern California and is the largest capital investment in the park in over a decade. The ride was built partially on the footprint of another ride, Willard’s Whizzer – a steel coaster that operated from 1976 to 1988.

The land that Prudential’s buildings sit on was originally an auxiliary parking lot for Great America. The land was sold in the late 90’s during the dot com boom. Prudential acquired the buildings in early 2002, according to a press release on their website.

Marriott’s Great America opened in 1976, as a celebration of America’s bi-centennial. The concept was to create a chain of parks to become an answer to Disney’s theme park empire.


Illegal POV Filming – When Will They Learn?

I hate to be a broken record – but if you’ve been reading my writings on illegal, handheld POV filming on rides – then watching this video should come as no surprise to you.

If you think filming on rides is harmless behavior – how would YOU like to be hit with a GoPro Hero3 at 55mph?

Thankfully, no one was apparently injured in this situation.

Here’s the kicker – while the ride starts well after the train has been dispatched and out of the eyesight of ride employees – the lift has not one, but TWO cameras on it. There’s got to be a better way of preventing this – and there is!


Season Pass Podcast Interview

We had the pleasure of being interviewed at the Gold Striker media day by the great Doug Barnes of “The Season Pass” podcast. Check out the interview about halfway through at the link below:

Can’t wait to talk up “Lost Parks” some more in the future, Doug!

iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/the-season-pass-the-essential/id268430539

Direct Link:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/seasonpasspodcast/The_Season_Pass_235.mp3

Season-Pass-Podcast-Logo