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Posts tagged “kristopher rowberry

The science behind why roller coaster corkscrews are so beautiful

Ever wonder why the double corkscrew element on classic Arrow and Vekoma roller coasters are so pleasing to the eye? True, the entry and exit isn’t too pleasing to your neck, but there sure feels like there’s some artistry put in those curves.

Turns out, there’s a lot more math at work, too.

Whether it was done on purpose I can’t say, but the reason for their inherent beauty lies in the “Golden Spiral,” also known as the Fibonacci Sequence.

Feels like a drone shot, doesn’t it?

So what is it? Well, it’s a set of numbers discovered over 1,300 years ago by Italian mathematician, Leonardo de Pisa (aka Fibonacci). When plotted on a flat surface, it creates the “Golden Spiral” which occurs naturally in shells, flowers and apparently…roller coasters.

Check out this comparison of Cedar Point’s Corkscrew next to the Golden Spiral:

Screenshot from “The Legacy of Arrow Development,” used with permission.

Now, I’m no fan of math (it’s why I went into communications) but this is pretty darn cool!

What do you think? Is your mind blown, too? Let me know in the comments below or on my social media channels!


Should roller coaster influencers be criticized for not wearing masks?

The “mask wars” of the COVID-19 pandemic have finally made it to the amusement park fan community.

Recently, several prominent ride / park fans have been hit with online criticism recently for posting updates of them without masks from parks and facilities across the country.

Putting aside the fact that the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC) as of 8/26/20 says, “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” is the criticism over posting mask-less photos at parks warranted?

First, we should consider context. Someone could wear a mask all day inside a safely operating theme park, take it off for one moment and someone snaps a photo. From there, the internet (which is known for thoughtful, critical thinking) immediately piles on the update, saying, “How dare you not wear a mask!”

Context is key in terms of photos you see online, but is it sending the right message to fans?

That being said, let us also remember that large reach and “influence” on people’s behavior, comes with a heightened sense of awareness. We are no longer anonymous, general park guests.  

We certainly wouldn’t post a photo of us on a coaster with the restraints in an unsafe position – that would be irresponsible. Right now, the most responsible thing to do (if you’re outside your home) is to wear a mask and socially distance. As such, we should model that behavior to fans and to the general public.

Yes, this means we need to plan what we share even more carefully than before. And yes, it’s going to be more difficult to do. But these are inherently different times and much like the modified operations at the parks we enjoy, we too must adapt how we do things.

This may become the “new normal” when it comes to photos inside parks. No one likes it, but the alternative is far worse…

If someone’s not in a mask in a photo in a park – let’s opt to not use it or post it. Think of it like I do with empty seats in a photo…it just doesn’t look right.

The more we hammer home that none of this is normal, perhaps more people will take the pandemic and it’s effects more seriously. Only then will we be able to defeat this virus and return to a sense of normal. We owe it to the 190,000 of our fellow Americans who are no longer with us.

Look, 2020 has been one disaster after another, I get it. We are all still flying by the seat of our pants, trying to figure out what the path forward will be. Since there’s no way to stop snap judgments on the internet, let’s not give them the opportunity to make one.

TLDR: We’re probably gonna have to mask up…in every update. In every photo and video…until we beat this thing.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my social media channels!


Debunking Common Theme Park Decision-Making Misconceptions

Shock Wave roller coaster and Oil Derrick at Six Flags Over Texas

Sometimes theme parks might make a decision that raises your eyebrow, at least for some of the most ardent of park fans. Some decide to make videos expressing their displeasure with certain parks, like this one:

While “Shock Wave Dan” notes in his description that some of his points are “jokes,” I couldn’t help but notice many of the items he brought up are actually common misconceptions across the country. In that vein, let’s debunk some common park fan misconceptions about my home park, Six Flags Over Texas!

“I don’t understand why the park doesn’t build bigger, better rides.”

I hate to break it to you, but the answer here is: they don’t need to.

As long as a park is maintaining or growing their financials consistently, there’s no reason to add a multi-million-dollar attraction to bring all those guests back. If you could keep people coming to your park and had a choice between spending $20 million or $5 million, and each would give you the same results – which one would you pick?

True, the rides at all of the Six Flags parks have been on the smaller side since the bankruptcy, but if you look at their financials (pre-2019) you’ll see the chain kept adding attendance overall. Plus, the stock price continued to rise, which looked good for the investors on Wall Street.

And while we’re at it – who’s to say these rides aren’t good? For a hardcore thrill seeker? Perhaps. But for the everyday person off the street? They could be the most exciting thrill they’ve ever experienced. It’s all about perspective.

Why doesn’t the park build more in the Tower section of the park?

This one is well talked about in online forums for Six Flags Over Texas. The answer is surprisingly simple: they don’t build in the area because it floods. A major rain event in September of 2018 sent a wall of water up to six feet deep through portions of the park, causing significant damage throughout the area.

While it was not the first time the park flooded, the City of Arlington re-zoned it as a, “…moderate risk for inundation from flood waters…subject to a 1% annual chance of flood…”

An updated flood map from the City of Arlington shows the entire Six Flags Over Texas property is zoned as a flood risk, which complicates future development plans.

What, exactly does that mean? If you try to build anything new in the area, it’s expensive. Crazy expensive. Remember, the park wanted to build Lone Star Revolution (now El Diablo) in that area, but when the flood risk was changed, the Spain section proved to be a better location.

El Diablo moved locations to the Spain section, after a flood forced a re-think of the ride’s original location.

Why is the Cave / Yosemite Sam’s Gold River Adventure still closed?

Also specific to Six Flags Over Texas, the Cave was a dark ride with floating ride vehicles that unfortunately, sustained damage during the 2018 flood.

Now, if you’ve ever dealt with an insurance company, whether for your car, doctor or dentist, you know how difficult and painful it can be.

Now imagine trying to navigate the claim on a multi-million-dollar attraction from a large corporation. Add in new restrictions on construction on your property. You’ll also need to find a vendor who’s free to begin rebuilding the ride…and create contracts for it.

Oh, and since you weren’t planning on this expense, it’s not in the budget. Think of it like the last time you hit a nail with your car. You weren’t planning on paying for a new set of tires, but surprise! In this case, just add a whole lot more zeroes to the bill.

“This park deserves better!” /  “Our park deserves better!” / “We deserve better!”

How can I argue with that? I can’t, really. Every park fan thinks their home park or favorite park should be treated better. Heck, even Cedar Point and Walt Disney World fans will find faults in their operations.

Considering the global pandemic we’re currently in, however – the fact that we can even visit a park right now is a miracle and should be treated as such.

New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry.
New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. Photo by Kris Rowberry.

Can things be better? Of course they can. But if you take one thing away from this editorial it should be this: parks don’t run like Planet Coaster or Roller Coaster Tycoon. And despite what you might want to think, these facilities were not built just for us, a small (but boisterous) minority of attendance.

What are some park myths you want busted? Let me know in the comments below or on my social media channels!


When thrills and storms collide!

Crank your amps all the way up to 11, it’s time to “Ride the Lightning.”

Photo by Kris Rowberry.

Captured during last night’s severe storms that passed through the DFW Metroplex, Judge Roy Scream at Six Flags Over Texas provided a stunning visual to go along with even more spectacular sights from Mother Nature.

I’ve been shooting lightning now for about a year, and it’s like playing the lottery. You rarely win, but when you do, it’s a rush almost as good as any thrill ride…

…almost.


Hurricane Laura potentially threatens three Galveston amusement parks

As if 2020 wasn’t bad enough for the amusement industry, Hurricane Laura is currently and rapidly intensifying in the Gulf of Mexico, and could strike three Galveston-area amusement parks with heavy rain, high wind and significant storm surge.

While Kemah Boardwalk and Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier lie just outside the potential path of the growing storm, park enthusiasts can take heart that the parks are raised up on piers, sparing them from at least some of the potential storm surge.

However, Schlitterbahn Galveston isn’t as fortunate, and lies just a few feet above sea level on Galveston Island. All three parks face the threat of damaging winds, torrential rain and severe thunderstorms, complete with tornadoes.

But, it’s not all doom and gloom, park fans. Back in 2008, when Hurricane Ike struck the area, all of the parks did see moderate to significant damage. However, all three also rose up and operated once again.

It also helps that Boardwalk Bullet (a CRIMINALLY underrated woodie) at Kemah Boardwalk was significantly overbuilt (much like modern woodies in California are for earthquakes) for just such an occasion.

Boardwalk Bullet features over 3,200 feet of track, packed into less than 1 acre of land. It holds the record for the most number of track crossovers ever: 42!
Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Jim Thompson (CC 2.0)

What’s truly unfortunate about Hurricane Laura is her timing. While a glancing blow could mean just a week or two of closures, in the COVID-19 era, these parks had just begun to recover from what was otherwise a miserable attendance year.

To put it a better way, Hurricane Laura is a proverbial “cherry on top” on the world’s worst ice cream sundae that is 2020.

So, as you go about your lives this week, do keep these three smaller parks in your thoughts over the next few days. As I said in my last blog, odds are that your local park could use all help they can get right now.


False active shooter report leads to panic inside California’s Great America

It gives me no pleasure to write a piece about this, but I think it IS important to see what happens when societal paranoia meets the reality of our society.

On Saturday night, reports began to circulate online of a group of disruptive teenagers inside California’s Great America. As part of a strong-arm robbery attempt inside the park, someone began shouting “SHOOTER,” inciting mass panic among the attendees.

Guests began running for any exit they could find, including making their own by scaling large, barbed wire fences in backstage areas.

Police scanner traffic reported a few some minor to moderate injures, consistent with trampling crowds, but that no shooting had occurred. There was no word if the group responsible for the false shooting reports were taken into custody.

The park put out a statement about 30 minutes after police arrived, saying:

They concluded with, “The safety of our guests and associates is our highest priority.”

Now, growing up at this park, it is beyond heartbreaking to watch a place I had so much fun in, turn into a place of pure, unadulterated terror. In an era where we drill our students about mass shooters in school, is it much of a stretch to see theme / amusement parks as a soft target? Sadly, no.

That being said, the security to get into theme / amusement parks like Great America is very good. I’ve never felt unsafe at a park event, except for what no security checkpoint can detect: bad actors. A person or group of people who are determined to hurt others in order to make themselves feel better.

The physical damage to the park is repairable. However, the reputation damage to the park and mental damage to those who were in attendance (both guests and employees) is not as easily repaired.

Are there are lessons to be learned here? Absolutely. I imagine parks across the country will be taking a look at their emergency and crisis plans to ensure this never happens at their parks.

But truth be told, we (as a nation) cannot allow ourselves to be so paranoid – and yet, here we are. That being said, after seeing all of these videos over and over, if I were placed in their shoes, I ask myself, “What would I do?”

P/C: California’s Great America.

I finish this op / ed with a question for all of us: Is this the type of country we want to live in? A country in which one bad actor can incite a mass panic, over the generally unfounded fear of someone gunning us down?

Because as much as we want this to be an isolated incident – barring radical change in our society – I’m fearful that this sort of occurrence is only the tip of the iceberg.


Six Flags Qiddiya Announces World’s Tallest, Fastest, Longest Roller Coaster

Today, Six Flags ($SIX) and the Qiddiya Investment Company announced what they hope will be the final word in roller coasters: Falcon’s Flight. While details are thin at the moment, the company claims that it will be the tallest, fastest and longest steel roller coaster ever built.

P/C: Six Flags.

The announcement coincides with the release of the Qiddiya Master Plan yesterday, outlining the park’s six themed areas. Falcon’s Flight will be the lynchpin in a greater development of the area, transforming what is currently desert to a thrill-seekers paradise, with 28 rides in total when it opens in 2023. The park will include several other record-breaking attractions, according to the news release.

P/C: Six Flags.

Despite the scale of the announcement (and it’s a big one, folks), it’s seeing quite a bit of skepticism online from both park fans and the general public. So why all the downer Dave’s & Debbie’s?

For starters, the ride (and park) are still three years away from opening, if everything goes smoothly. Generally, parks or chains hold back on “record-breaking” announcements, to not allow others to potentially compete for a longer period of time.

By telling the world you’re building a 155 mph coaster, other parks or manufacturers could get a head start on breaking those exact, same records.

However, with the animation and stats that have been released, it’s doubtful any park would – or more crucially could – spend the capital necessary to match or exceed these world records. Just from the looks of the video, this ride could easily exceed $100 million USD to build. That’s more than some park chains spent on rides at all of their parks last year!

P/C: Six Flags.

Second, there are still calls for Six Flags and other American brands to abandon their partnerships with the Saudi Royal Family, after it was revealed the Kingdom was an active participant in the murder of Washington Post reporter, Jamal Khashoggi.

Thirdly, others are wondering whether this coaster (and park) will ever see the light of day, given the company’s track record of opening new parks internationally. Of the five announced international projects, Six Flags has delayed two (China) and cancelled one (Dubai).

The last surviving park Six Flags built from the ground up is Six Flags Mid-America (St. Louis), debuting back in 1971 (Six Flags Power Plant in Baltimore was more of a themed-entertainment attraction, opening in 1985 and closing in 1990). All of the other parks that make up the chain today were acquired after they were built. (Side note: the current Six Flags, Inc. is not the same company that built the original three parks).

Of the five announced international projects, Six Flags has delayed two (China) and cancelled one (Dubai).

With all that being said – the project is backed by members of the Saudi Royal Family, some of the richest people on Earth. It’s doubtful that they would allow a project of this scope and notoriety (after today) to fail or falter, let alone never open.

The bigger issue is: can the manufacturer of this ride (or any of the rides planned) work out the inherent complications of operating safely and consistently in the scorching, desert heat and sand of the Middle East?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see three years for the answer.


Kings Island Announces Massive New Ride – Online “Fans” Decide they Already Hate It

Talk about entitled!

On the eve of National Roller Coaster Day, Kings Island in Ohio announced their tallest, fastest, steepest, longest and most expensive steel roller coaster ever. It checks off all of the superlatives any marketing manager would drool over and is just the sort of ride a family watching the news would immediately say, “Let’s go to Kings Island next summer!”

Except, of course, for a select group of loud, online roller coaster enthusiasts.

P/C: Kings Island.

You see, apparently dropping upwards of $25 million isn’t enough for these folks, as they IMMEDIATELY began to bash the new ride.

You read that correctly: they’re heavily criticizing a ride that isn’t built yet, based solely on photos and snips of POV video.

Am I missing something here? This ride is going to be one of only seven “giga” coasters in the world (300 foot drop). It’s a capacity darling with three train operation and four-across seating. It’s everything a sane coaster enthusiast should love.

Apparently dropping upwards of $25 million on a new thrill ride isn’t enough for these folks.

But no. It apparently wasn’t extreme enough for some online. And being the Internet, they made sure the park knew their displeasure – via social media:

For reals, dude?

Let’s not even get into the fact that these are the same group of “enthusiasts” who scoured the Internet, stumbling upon the ride’s name months ago.

It’s almost like they’ve ruined their own hobby…where have we heard that before?

SPOILER ALERT: Parks don’t build ride for the 1% (or less) of enthusiasts like us. They build them to attract families to come to the parks, spend all day (and all of their money) multiple times a year.

Several park chains have switched between the thrill-seeker demographic and family one. Time and time again, the return to family attractions (with thrilling rides sprinkled in-between) has ALWAYS been the better formula for success.

SPOILER ALERT: Parks don’t build ride for the 1% (or less) of enthusiasts like us.

Just be thankful your home park is receiving anything at all, let alone a massive, new coaster from one of the best manufacturers in the world.

Just to put it into perspective: other park chains are “looking forward” to announcing glorified carnival rides and ultra-low capacity coasters as their new for 2020 attraction later this month.

Oh and for anyone trying to not call this thing a giga coaster – Steel Phantom would like to have a word with you…


California’s Great America Celebrates National Roller Coaster Day with Tongue-in-Cheek Celebration of Kiddie Coaster

Warning: this is a really cute video.

As part of their National Roller Coaster Day festivities, California’s Great America commissioned arguably one of the best tongue-in-cheek social media videos this year: a celebration of their 1999 Miler Kiddie Coaster, Lucy’s Crabbie Cabbies.

Enjoy the hilarity (be sure to look at the titles) and well done, CGA!


Fan Journalism has officially “Jumped the Shark”

Remember when blogging was just a fun hobby? When you could start a website (or visit one) that covered all the cool happenings going on at your favorite theme or amusement park?

Well, those days are numbered – in the name of clicks and likes.

Over the past few years – and especially the past few weeks – amusement park fans online have been bombarded with fake stories, new ride announcements spoiled through “investigations” and general bad behavior.

And it’s ruining our entire community.

Let’s get one thing straight: just because you cover a park, it does not make you a journalist. All true journalists are bound by a code of ethics with the constant threat of losing their jobs if they get something wrong.

Theme park “journalists” have no such code and as such, can (and do) post malicious, false or confidential information, generally with little to no ramifications. Take it from a guy who’s worked both sides of this story: Fan journalism is rapidly running out of style at parks across the country.

Can you blame them? Investigating and “breaking” news like shipping documents or permits showing what new ride is coming next season…what fun is that? It’s akin to searching for (and finding) your Christmas presents hidden in the closet.

Not to mention all the hard work and planning that goes into these announcements from the park side. True, the general public will most likely never visit these sites, but don’t you want to be surprised on announcement day like them?

“Take it from a guy who’s worked both sides of this story: Fan journalism is rapidly running out of style at parks across the country.”

For all the good bloggers out there, all it takes is one bad apple to spoil the bunch. Some parks have even removed bloggers entirely from the equation, simply because of perceived issues with the greater community.

So what can we – as a community – do to stop it?

In so many cases, we cannot remove these people from our community – but we can take away from them the one thing they want: attention. Flag false stories. Don’t engage on tabloid-style stories. Basically, take back the community we worked so hard to create.

On the park side, actions must have consequences. Share problem bloggers with others in the industry and let them know (in no uncertain terms) why they’re not being invited to events anymore. Give them a road map to success and if they stray – it’s on them, not you.

These bad actors cannot be allowed to represent us as a whole, otherwise our community is doomed to toxicity (and irrelevancy) for eternity.


Why Virtual Reality Roller Coasters Seemingly Died

Galactic Attack VR Coaster

It seemed like virtual reality (VR) on roller coasters was about to be the “next big thing” in the amusement industry. Many parks / chains figured they could breathe new life into older attractions with a VR update. So why are we seeing less and less of them all of a sudden?

Slow Operations / Long Lines

The first thing folks noticed about VR coasters was their wait times – and it wasn’t because they had become instantly more popular. Ride dispatches, even on small trains could average up to 10 minutes+ making ride capacities plummet and wait times soar.

Plus, in many cases, there wasn’t a separate line for non-VR seats. Guests would have to wait the exact same amount of time to NOT experience VR as they did if they wanted to.

Galactic Attack VR Coaster

Galactic Attack was the “second generation” of VR on coasters for Six Flags. However, the long waits and malfunctioning headsets disappointed many guests.

The Experience Wasn’t Seamless

During my many experiences with VR coasters, the ride didn’t sync properly with the timing of the train or shut off completely, which led to queasy guests. Other times, the VR required people to do an action, like shoot space aliens – leaving their hands unable to brace themselves into corners and brakes.

Did it make the ride better?

But for me, the biggest downfall of virtual reality coasters is that they don’t make the coaster they go on any better. In fact, in the case of Ninja at Six Flags St. Louis, it made the ride WORSE. I couldn’t brace for the “transitions” and the ride ended up being very painful.

There’s Promise on the Horizon…

Where VR coasters appear to have failed, there seems increasing promise in VR drop towers. Parks with multiple towers or vehicles seem like they could benefit the most.

To me, these experiences are a vastly superior VR experience: smoother, one plane of travel and decreased forces, coupled with not slowing down the other towers or vehicles.

Drop of Doom VR

VR on drop towers has promise, but if it lowers capacity it may not be worth all the effort from a guest perspective.

So, to sum up, the VR experience is a novel concept but it’s not quite ready for prime time, at least with it’s current implementation here in the United States. If parks can ultimately work out the capacity and reliability issues with the headsets, it might be a novel way to breathe new life into older rides.

Otherwise, virtual reality coasters should be relegated to an up-charge attraction that only runs certain times of the year or specific hours of the operating day.

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What do you think? Do you enjoy VR on roller coasters, drop rides, or neither? Let me know in the comments below – and be sure to check us out on social media!


How to Make Ride Announcements Better for Amusement Park Chains

Mako at SeaWorld San Diego

It’s that time of year again – time for park fans to begin serious speculation about what may (or may not) be coming to their favorite parks in 2020.

With SeaWorld Parks already making announcements (or teasing them) for all of their parks, Cedar Fair and Six Flags are up next to reveal what’s in the works for next season.

Mako at SeaWorld San Diego

All of the SeaWorld parks are expecting major, new additions to their facilities in 2020, including Mako at the original SeaWorld in San Diego, CA.

There seems to be two trains of thought on how to best make these announcements: by individual park or as a complete chain.

At Cedar Fair it appears the chain spreads out their announcements, usually over a two week period, so that each park receives their “day in the sun” with media coverage in their local markets.

Meanwhile at Six Flags, the chain has made it a tradition to announce every park’s newest addition in a single video, with each park sending out a release to their local media. The idea is that the single announcement carries more weight on a national level, which should translate into more traction with the national media.

But this “one day fits all” strategy does have a potential flaw: what if a park hasn’t opened their new ride from 2019? Wouldn’t that potentially kill the buzz for both?

Sadly, for the good folks at Six Flags Magic Mountain, they don’t have to imagine this scenario – they’re living it.

Since their “new for 2019” attraction, West Coast Racers, isn’t even finished being built, it’s highly likely the park will be forced to announce another new ride, without even finishing the last one they announced.

West Coast Racers at Six Flags Magic Mountain

Despite being announced in late August of 2018, West Coast Racers is still far from being complete.

Personally, I’m a fan of the spread out approach. The collective anticipation continues to build throughout the week or two you keep dropping announcements. Plus, there’s a smaller probability that your least-visited parks or smaller investments won’t be lost in the giant, one day announcement.

And if a situation like Magic Mountain’s sets up, there’s flexibility built into it to delay an announcement.

No matter the way you announce it, 2020 is setting up to be a record year for new capital investment. Let the speculation and intrigue begin!

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What do you think? Are you a fan of a “one day” or “spread out” announcement style for new rides and attractions? Let me know in the comment section below – and be sure to check us out on social media as well!


No More Free Rides: Companies Need to Stop Asking for Free Marketing from Fans

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a company puts out a call to its fans online, asking if they have any photos or videos of their product they might be able to use at upcoming trade shows.

The fans get the satisfaction of helping their favorite company. Sometimes, they get recognition for the project and some company swag.

Meanwhile, the company gets a life-long license to market and use that image or video to help sell their product(s), which can easily cost in the millions of dollars.

How is that fair?

As a whole, our industry has become too reliant on the kindness of our fans. Asking for free marketing material is reckless, outdated and insulting to professionals in the field.

It’s Reckless:

Were all the subjects in the photo aware they were being photographed commercially? Was everything properly permitted? Were there any releases signed for the photos or video?

If the answer is no to any of these, it could cost you hundreds of lost man-hours in the office and potentially thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

And who’s to say the work you get back is any good? If they aren’t being paid, what motivation is there to give you their best material?

It’s Outdated:

15-20 years ago, there might have been the argument that allowing a company to use a work, “with attribution” in order to gain exposure would be a good idea.

But with the advent of social media, that model has fundamentally changed. Fans don’t need companies to get famous – they can do it on their own, now.

It’s Insulting:

You would not build a ride for free if someone asked, right? So why then would you ask someone to give you something they worked hard on?

For the cost of one or two Allen Bradley Safety Relays, you can ensure that your company will have powerful and flexible marketing materials for years to come.

Kris Rowberry, Great Coasters International photo

Yours truly in front of a photo taken for GCI that was properly executed and compensated.

Bottom line: fans are a wonderful resource for parks and vendors, but their fandom should never be exploited by the very companies they love the most.

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What do you think? Should companies stop asking fans for free stuff? Or do you think it’s harmless interaction with their fans? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on our social networks!


Disney Makes Unprecedented Statement Debunking Ride Removal Rumor from Internet

This week, a completely unverified rumor on the alleged fate of a ride at Walt Disney World grew so massive, the company took the unprecedented step of making a public statement saying that the rumor was completely baseless.

Let me repeat that: Disney. Had to make an official statement. About a rumor on the internet.

Just let that settle in for a moment.

With larger parks and chains, it’s become a cottage industry to report on park news and rumors, as if they were actual newsrooms, complete with reporters.

The only issue is, they aren’t.

These blogs and Twitter accounts can report on whatever they want, however they want, with no apparent recourse if what they report on is false or misleading. So why do we continue, time after time, to allow accounts like this to ruin the fun of our industry – and why do so many of the fans continue to believe them?

There is an elegantly simple solution, but it’s oh so difficult to implement: Stop giving them credibility. Not only as a fan, but also as a park / vendor / operator.

As park fans, just unfollow them. Don’t even let them know you haven’t forgotten about that one time they messed up. It’ll just give them better clicks and search results. We, as park fans, have an obligation to, as Ronald Reagan once told Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.” Otherwise, we’re just as much a part of the problem.

Ronald Reagan portrait

The Gipper had it right when he said, “Trust, but verify.” We need to heed those words now more than ever.

If you are a park, a vendor or an operator, ask yourself, “Do these people get invited to media events or other special perks?”

If so, stop inviting them. Just because they have a lot of followers, that doesn’t give them the right to make your life as a Public Relations or Marketing Manager a living hell.

And to those who think I’m off my rocker, just remember this: Disney Parks have been around much longer without Walt at the helm than with him – so they must be doing something right.

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What do you think? Are bloggers and social media ruining the park fan experience? Or do you think it’s harmless interaction that doesn’t hurt anyone? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to follow us on our social networks!


Kris Rowberry Returns to Great American Thrills

Kris Rowberry

Hey everyone! It’s been awhile since we last talked. Two and a half years, to be precise.

No, it wasn’t you – it was me. A necessary hiatus what with me taking a position in the Communications Department of a major theme park here in the south.

But as of this week, that restriction have been lifted, so you’ll be able to expect hearing from me on a semi-regular basis once again.

I’m so sorry.

You’ll also be seeing some changes to the site over the next few months, with some new features as well as a new look. I’ll be sure to keep you all up to speed as we transition back into regular programming.

It’s been a long two and a half years – we’ve got a lot to catch up on.

But, just to be safe, let’s not wait that long to talk to one another ever again – okay?

– KR

Kris Rowberry

Kris Rowberry is back at Great American Thrills!


Winterfest at Great America Gives a Shimmering Debut

It is rare in the amusement industry to meet expectations, especially for hardcore park fans. It is an even rarer event to exceed those expectations.

After I experienced Winterfest at California’s Great America this past Friday, I am happy to report that my expectations for this park have been forever shattered, in the most wonderful of ways.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new ob-board spiel.

Star Tower has been magically transformed into the North Pole, complete with decorations and a new on-board spiel.

With a little help from local figure skating Olympian Polina Edmunds and Snoopy, the park lit it’s impressive 60 foot tall tree:

Winterfest Main Tree

Now, if you live in Santa Clara and find it difficult to get a Christmas Tree in Santa Clara – blame this park – as hundreds of Douglas Firs are spread throughout it. They’re used both as ambiance as well as effective barriers to closed-off sections of the park. The result is quite striking: not only does it look like Christmas, it SMELLS like it, too.

 

Snowflake Lake:

Arguably the most striking feature of Winterfest, this honest-to-goodness ice rink is in the middle of Carousel Columbia’s reflection pond.

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If you intend on going skating, check-in first at the Stroller Rental. That’s where you’ll have to fill out the waiver (thanks, California) and if you’re under 18, you’ll need a parental signature to hit the rink. When we first arrived, it was unclear where we had to go to first, so we lost skating time as a result.

Also, you CAN bring your own skates, but the additional fee to skate still applies (I.E. no discount). Just be prepared to get a locker to keep them safe, unless you want to lug them around the park the rest of the evening.

Finally, if you happen to be late for your scheduled ice skating time (it’s given in blocks of 30 minutes) you’ll be given the final skate of the night by default.

Santa’s Reindeer:

Winterfest Reindeer

Sitting on the site of the much-beloved “Triple Play” Huss Troika, the reindeer paddock saw consistent crowds all evening long. If you’ve never seen a real one up-close, it’s quite a treat. Listen for the snapping from their hoof tendons as they prance around. The site also provides unique (albeit dark) photo opportunities for the Patriot coaster (nee Vortex) due to open in 2017.

 

Entertainment / Shows:

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Under the brilliant management of Entertainment Director, Clayton Lawrence, the quality of shows in the park and overall experiences available to guests during Winterfest has met or exceeded those of the Marriott-era.

Yes, I said it. Because it’s true.

As during “Taste of Orleans” – there were characters everywhere – happy to interact with you and your family. There was always a show you could go and see, all with high production value and jaw-dropping visuals. The decorations and lighting around the park brought it to life in a away none of us have seen before. When Santa appeared at the end of the show, the kids in the audience legitimately GEEKED OUT. It was fully immersive entertainment – my God it was a THEME park again.

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Be sure to get to the shows you wish to see early, as the best seats go fast. Both theatres saw STANDING ROOM ONLY crowds – and that was on a Friday night. Just imagine how packed it could be once the word gets out!

“It’s Christmas, Snoopy” was so good – after Linus’ famous speech on the true meaning of Christmas…people applauded. That tells you a LOT. And to ensure complete inclusion in this holiday event – in addition to a nativity scene, there’s a Hanukkah menorah and Kwanzaa kinara in the park itself.

 

Merchandise:

I have made it no secret my disdain for the merchandise offerings from corporate parks (The 8-car Demon shirt, the California’s Great Adventure Gold Striker shirts) but, I’m willing to forgive my home park for ALL OF THAT, when I saw this:

 

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

THIS is what fans want to see in their local amusement park!

 

And this…

CGA Winterfest Merch 2

 

And finally, this:

CGA Winterfest Merch 3

Ladies and gentlemen, that is park-specific merchandise (which is increasingly rare in the corporate park world). It took effort to create and it can only be sold in one park in the chain.

I bought the ornament immediately and look forward to it gracing my tree for decades to come.

Want to make a park fan happy? Just keep making merchandise like this. Don’t keep pushing generic “I ride with Him / Her” shirts. I’ll never buy one of those. But I sure as hell will grab unique pieces like this – and happily hand over my credit card.

 

Coal in the Stocking:

But, much like Christmas morning, sometimes you don’t always get everything you want. For instance, with all the glitz and lighting around it, Carousel Columbia wasn’t very well lit or distinguishable once the sun set. Just leaving the regular white up-lights with those blue highlights would vastly improve everyone’s front entrance photos and ice-selfies.

Jaw dropping from Star Tower, but remarkably touch to spot from the ground, Carousel Columbia could use some more lights on the front to stand out better.

Speaking of Columbia, all of the park maps (paper, online and in-park poster) have three errors on them, including the misspelling of the iconic carousel (it’s misspelled “COLOMBIA,” like the country). It’s hard for die-hard park fans to ignore when someone misspells your signature attraction:

Insert head-slap here.

Insert head-slap here.

Gold Striker and Flight Deck are both on single train operation – which is understandable – given the three and-a-half weeks the park’s maintenance staff has had to do a complete winter rehabilitation (it’s usually several months). But, if you choose to go to Winterfest just to ride either of these e-tickets, expect longer than average wait times (you really shouldn’t be going for the rides, anyway).

Lines for food also seemed to be longer than usual. I’m chalking it up to having the main food service area (County Fair’s Food Festival) not open as part of the festivities. Also, because that and half of Planet Snoopy aren’t open for Winterfest (you’ll walk along a decorated part of the service road instead), the park can feel more crowded than usual, so just be sure to bring plenty of Christmas cheer on crowded nights.

Food lines CGA

Final Thoughts:

Despite these bits of coal, Winterfest isn’t just worth your time or money – it should be mandatory that every family in the greater Bay Area check it out sometime this holiday season. Winterfest combines everything that other holiday events do in the area (plus coasters and rides) in just one location. It’s worthy of “tradition” status and did I mention there’s a 100% chance of snow?

Winterfest Snow


Should I Go To The IAAPA Expo in Orlando?

Looking through some theme park fan message boards around September, you get a common theme: people ask about / want to go to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) expo in Orlando, mostly because, “it looks like fun.”

Still others post that, “It looks like Disney’s D23, only for the whole industry,” while others say, “…the website is written in business-speak…”

Let me clear up a few things for you all. First, IAAPA isn’t held for park fans. Don’t be confused by some of the coverage you see on some of those other park blogs – IAAPA is about just three things: buying goods, selling goods and networking for jobs.

Orange County Convention Center IAAPA

Millions upon millions of dollars are transferred in the four days this show is held. There’s a literal ton of business being done on the floor – so – if you do decide to attend this expo as a park fan, you have to know “the code.”

Attending as a park or ride fan and just barreling up to the B&M or RMC booth to swoon over Walter, Fred or Alan – especially while they’re trying to talk to potential buyers – is a massive faux paux. In some cases, a company’s livelihood can depend on the meetings they have at this expo.

Also, snapping photos or video without permission is a HUGE no-no. ALWAYS ask booth vendors if it’s okay to take a photo or record part of their booth the booth for a video.

If you’ve got actual business to discuss (such as inquiring about a job or internship) then feel free to speak to them…when they’re free. If you’re a fan and just taking in the convention for fun, it’s best to just grab some literature and move on. Speaking of discussing business…

Standing next to one of my photos in the Great Coasters booth.

Standing next to one of my photos in the Great Coasters booth.

The amusement industry – despite being worldwide – is a very tight knit group of individuals. Everyone knows everyone and word gets around…fast. That’s why IAAPA is the perfect event to go to if you’re looking to get a job in the industry. This expo gives you the rare opportunity to meet and network with prospective employers face to face, as well as the opportunity to give them a copy of your resume and cover letter.

Take it from me – I’ve been hired because of connections I made at this expo in the past, as have several of my friends!

Now, despite what you might think from some of the other bloggers out there – the way you dress says a LOT about your purpose. Shorts and a t-shirt emblazoned with your blog’s logo are not commonplace nor looked upon well by vendors. If you want to make a good impression, stand out from the other “schlubs” and come in a suit and tie.

If your registration permits it, one of the least talked about (but best parts) of the expo are the educational seminars they hold. From learning about the business from Disney legends, to how to properly curate social media for your brand, to symposiums on laser tag – these “edu-sessions” give attendees tons of insight, but tend to not get the fanfare that the show floor does.

Speaking of the show floor – yes, it’s true – there ARE a few rides and attractions you can go on at the show. It’s just like purchasing a new car. Just remember that those vendors are there to sell that ride – not entertain you with a day-long ERT session.

GCI Booth IAAPA

If you truly love this industry and want to make it part of your career, I would make it a point to someday visit the annual IAAPA Expo in Orlando. However, if you’re looking for a place to nerd out with other theme park fans, save your money and stick with D23. You’ll end up having more fun there, anyway.


California’s Great America Winterfest Details Slowly Emerge

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:

Snowflake Lake:winterfest-skating

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.

tree-lighting-winterfest

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?!?

winterfest-singers

Little rough on the ISO – but beautiful to see nonetheless! Photo credit: California’s Great America

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:


Could Great America’s Consulate become the next great season pass perk?

Hidden in plain sight above Bourbon Street in Orleans Place, lies a little bit of Disney magic inside the confines California’s Great America:

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The balcony of the Consulate as seen during the Taste of Orleans festival.

Known as “The Consulate” – it’s primary function is a meeting room, where some of the biggest decisions about the park have gone down.

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy - used with permission.

Some of the biggest deals in the park’s history have been signed at this table. Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission.

But that wasn’t always the intended purpose. In fact, it was originally built with the idea that the Marriott’s would use the space to stay during trips, a la the apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland. That is, until the Marriott’s realized they had nice hotels already near their properties with concierge service and a lack of crowds.

So while the Consulate is still used today for business – what if it’s wrought iron gates were opened to a select few park-goers as a VIP lounge? And what if you could upgrade your Platinum Pass to a “Consulate Pass?”

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy - used with permission.

Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission.

The idea isn’t that far fetched – several parks have hosted hospitality centers for bloggers and other influencers, where they could store items and get free refills and snacks, all away from the crowds. Why not give guests the opportunity to pay for that same, sweet access?

Plus, the pass could add a few other perks, maybe higher discounts for food and merchandise – or even a single fast lane per visit. It’s a Platinum, Platinum Pass.

Since upgrading to a Platinum Pass isn’t worth the cost for most Bay Area folks, with the exception of those who want to go to Knott’s (and I’ve covered that in a previous article) and considering an upgrade from a Gold Pass to a Platinum Pass doesn’t add any more value to a visit at CGA, maybe this benefit might be the incentive people need to pony up those extra bucks. And since we’re here in Silicon Valley, receiving that “premium” experience is not a hard sell.

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The Consulate seems frozen in time. Photo courtesy of The Coaster Guy – used with permission

Should it be by invite only? Probably to start. Parks tend to (or should) know their heaviest users and could easily identify probable candidates from common knowledge – or just looking at pass usage data.

What do you think? Would you pay up to get access to the Consulate? How much would you be willing to shell out to step up to the second floor? Let me know in the comments below.

Again, special thanks to Kurt (The Coaster Guy) for permission to use his photos of the Consulate during ACE’s Coaster Con XXXVII!


Five completely offensive rides that should be closed immediately

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

Offends: Aquaphobiacs

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

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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.”img_8719

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?

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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.

None.

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:


Great America’s Halloween Haunt 2016 Proves It’s Still The Best in the Bay Area

Northern California’s marquee morbid event, Halloween Haunt, returns to California’s Great America in 2016 with a few tweaks and added shrieks.

I don’t want to give a blow-by-blow review of each and every maze – you really should go out and explore them for yourselves. However, I will be giving you an overall picture, with some detailed insight.

The marquee attraction for 2016 is “Fear:VR” a virtual reality experience using Samsung phones and the Oculus headset. They are the same headsets used by Six Flags for their VR coasters – but that’s where the comparison ends.

Fear: 5150 seat

The seats used in “Fear: 5150.” NOTE: Photo taken with park representative present. Photos inside mazes and other attractions are NOT ALLOWED.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

Guests of Fear:VR experience a simulated hospital – and lose all sense of the real world for a few brief, terrifying minutes.

Fear:VR (the name was changed due to complaints from mental health advocates) uses 8 stationary “wheelchairs” set up in one of two rooms, dressed just like a doctors office. The “nurses” allow you to get comfortable, then quite literally strap you in. The “Nurses” then place on the VR headset and earphones. The simulation (they call it an ocular exam) proceeds and uses several extra-sensory tricks, similar to a 4D theater in addition to the VR screen.

Overall, it is a fascinating, psychological trip that shows the potential of VR without having to strap you into a moving coaster. But, it will also set you back $10 per person. Normally, I’d be against this – but once I saw the slow capacity, I understood the necessity of making it an “upcharge” attraction. The ability to schedule your “doctor’s appointment” and realistic looking ID wristband you get to take with you are very nice touches.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

It’s been a bad day at the hospital…

One of the biggest changes that Haunt fans will notice is the separation of the Skeleton Key rooms from the mazes. Now they are in their own, individual sites (mostly stores). This has alleviated one of the chief criticisms of last year’s Haunt, in which Skeleton Room patrons waited LONGER to experience the maze than those who had not purchased an upgrade.

This separation keeps the uniqueness of the rooms, while preserving the Fast Lane that comes with it. The five rooms are: Bone Crusher, Dominated, Vanity, Sorority Slaughter and Hoarder House. Their experiences vary from standard “walk-though” maze to full-on “escape from the room.”

Cornstalkers received a much-needed refresh – and it paid off nicely. Great to see the older mazes get some love here, too.

However, the event is not without it’s wrinkles to iron out. For example, the Fast Lane entrance for Insanitarium was difficult to find – and when I did find it, it wasn’t separated from the other guests, which led to some confusion. Thankfully, crowds were very light for a Friday night.

Also, the area around “Fear: 5150” is quite bleak – and not in the good, “Haunt-ish” sort of way. It’s actually quite difficult to FIND or even SEE the attraction as you’re walking past it. With Planet Snoopy completely dark, I struggled to see the sign for the attraction – and many guests probably walked right past it without even realizing it was there. Maybe some extra “nurses” could be stationed around the area, and used like carnival barkers to ask if people have made their appointments” to see the good doctor.

Fear: 5150 at California's Great America

It’s easy to miss “Fear:VR” if you don’t know it’s there. The area is very dark and the signage is nearly impossible to see.

Now, I know I’ve written at length before about this last gripe, but it bears repeating: How can a park, with a ride themed after a demonic creature, not do ANYTHING to plus the ride during a Halloween event? Of course, I’m referring to “The Demon” – and it befuddles me each and every Haunt to ride it, only to find nothing has been added, changed or put into it. Heck, at least the other Demon at Six Flags Great America brings back the kitschy theme song that used to play in the queue during their Fright Fest! Here’s the complete soundtrack, in case anyone at the park is reading this:

The event still suffers from a lack of talent, both in the scare zones and mazes. Hopefully, it will fill out as the event progresses.

Finally – this is something that I’ve watched become more and more of an issue with each Haunt season: parking control.
While I realize that security is more focused on the guests inside the park, it may be time to address the parents picking up their kids outside the gates.

You see, this isn’t the line to get into the park for Haunt – these are all parked vehicles, blocking the entrance to the parking lot. It extends all the way onto Great America Parkway. If I were a guest who didn’t know better, I’d assume it was the line to get into the park – and promptly change my mind about going that evening:

Haunt Parking Mess 1

This is a line of parked cars, blocking the entry to Great America – they’re all waiting to pick up their kids, when the drop off spot is less than a block away.

Haunt Parking Mess 2

If I were driving on GAP and saw this line of cars headed to the park – I’d promptly keep driving, assuming the park was packed.

What’s more frustrating, is that in addition to all of that roadway being a red zone, the drop off / pick up area is right across the way, designed for easy entry and exit. It was only about half-full when I took these photos. But, come peak Haunt season, it will be full and overflowing. It would be nice to see the park and city come up with a better, higher capacity waiting area, so that more people would use it. Where’s Stanley Roberts when you need him?

So is Halloween Haunt a good bet for you and your friends in 2016? Absolutely.

Should you pony up a few extra bucks for the unique, Skeleton Rooms and Fear:VR? Yes. You probably had a Gold Pass anyway, so why not spend a few bucks every now and then to “plus” your experience? I know I’ll be returning to the fog…


Six Flags Discovery Kingdom unveils Rage of the Gargoyles VR Coaster for Fright Fest

Being the closest Six Flags park to Silicon Valley, it seems strange to have it receive the virtual reality add-on to one of its coasters so late in the game.

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However, with time comes improvement and those lessons learned at other Six Flags parks were on full display at the media preview aboard Kong for “Rage of the Gargoyles” – a virtual reality experience powered by Samsung and Oculus.

The headsets have been completely re-designed, with a simple click wheel for tightening in the back and bungee straps with a single adjustment point. The phones themselves still have the occasional hiccup, which does add to dispatch times. But overall, it’s faster than other installations I’ve seen.

The newer headsets are easier to clean and adjust, which should speed up dispatches.

The newer headsets are easier to clean and adjust, which should speed up dispatches.

WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD:

The experience itself is fairly straightforward. You’re a gunner in a helicopter, slowly climbing to do battle with gargoyles – because, why not? At the top of the lift, a giant gargoyle appears and rips the top off your helicopter, rendering your gun useless.

During the ride, the gargoyles still come at you, move your head around to target them with missiles.

At the end of the ride, the “boss” gargoyle appears once again, so you have to do battle with him as the train slowly navigates back to the station. If you don’t do battle with him at the end – you actually end up losing the game!

END OF SPOILERS…

My biggest concerns going into the event today were shared by many others: how could a ride known for rough, jerky transitions be suitable for a “blinded” VR experience? I have to say, I did not experience significant headbanging on my two trips (it was far from smooth, however). On the second trip, however my headset did become loose and began bouncing around on my head, which was not pleasant.

Kong VR Instructions

With the large, Vekoma over the shoulder restraint, I also found it difficult to reach the side button to shoot during the game. It also limited my reach when the headset came loose.

Dispatch times were improved over what I saw this past summer at other Six Flags parks. At this special media event, they were averaging around 4-5 minutes. That is a vast improvement over the 7-10 minute dispatches I saw at Six Flags St. Louis, Over Georgia and Over Texas this past summer.

So, is it worth a trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to experience Northern California’s first Virtual Reality coaster? Yes, if you’ve never done it before. Just be prepared for long waits and slow dispatches. I’ll predict that the general public will eat this sort of thing up, while coaster fans (who already weren’t too hot on Kong) might give it a second look.

If you’ve been on a VR coaster before, it’s not much different from what you’ve already experienced. A ride on the Joker or Medusa might be a better bet if the lines are as long as predicted.

Understatement of the century when it comes to VR coasters!

Understatement of the century when it comes to VR coasters!

Overall, I still don’t like the idea of VR on rides, at least on the rides that they’ve been installed on in the United States. While the idea is there, the execution just isn’t worth the wait. At least, not yet. All that being said, this is one of the better VR installations that I’ve experienced.

Have you done battle with the gargoyles aboard Kong? Let me know what you think in the comments section below:


Six Flags Discovery Kingdom’s New for 2017 attraction is a real headscratcher

It’s the best time of the year for park fans – time to find out what that 2017 season pass will get you at your local or favorite bemusement and theme parks.

Early this morning, Six Flags fans got up early to see what was coming their way – and it was a lot of DC Comics-themed clones.

A lot of them. Several “Justice League” dark rides and Joker-themed 4D Free Fly coasters dominated the announcements, which isn’t surprising – considering the larger investments in parks last year across the chain.

But the real headscratcher in this chain-wide announcement is my local park, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Here’s why:

The park is adding a Zamperla Giant Discovery – a large pendulum ride that swings riders while the disc spins around:

There’s just one thing – the park already has something just like it – a very intense Huss Frisbee known as “Tazmanian Devil.”

Tazmanian Devil at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Call me crazy – but I think many would agree a better addition would have been a Zamperla Endeavour; the same model seen at Six Flags Over Texas:

Of course, Tax could also be having some serious maintenance challenges – and might not be there next year. But if it is – better get some Scalpicin shampoo to cut down on the irritation to your head.

Even more amazing – despite all the issues surrounding the closure of Vortex and subsequent communications afterwards – California’s Great America STILL has an opportunity to not only trump Discovery Kingdom’s announcement – but completely usurp the Vallejo parks’ new addition – if they play it right. Betcha did see that coming last week…

Personally – the biggest and most exciting news out of Six Flags this year – wasn’t even part of the annual announcement – it was released the day before it.

Jeffrey Siebert – long time Public Relations and Marketing manager for Paramount’s Kings Island, Schlitterbahn and Fiesta Texas was promoted to the role of General Manager of the San Antonio park. Anyone who has been to one of his events knows he is the prototype for all communications / public relations employees at an amusement or theme park. He isn’t just another employee – he IS the park. Lives, eats, sleeps and breathes it. It could not have happened to a better person – and I look forward to seeing what he does now that he’s his own boss (sort of).

What did you think of the Six Flags announcements for 2017? Leave a comment below and let’s chat!