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

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

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

In a word…yes.

Mass Effect 2

Photo credit: California’s Great America

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

Photo credit: California's Great America

Photo credit: California’s Great America

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: California's Great America

Photo credit: California’s Great America

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

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

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

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

You read it here first, people.

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

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

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

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

Well, yes…and no.

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

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

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Let’s begin with the positives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, CalOSHA!

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

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

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

But, it’s not 40th anniversary GREAT.

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

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

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

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


New looping waterslide looks more like torture than fun

The looping waterslide. It’s one of the holy grails of amusement park design. Only one has ever been built, at Action Park in New Jersey. It was opened for less than a month – but it’s legend lives on forever.

Now, the same park that “invented” the first looping waterslide is now poised to install this monstrosity:

http://kotaku.com/360-degree-waterslide-looks-like-a-vomit-tube-1692503973

How you can call this a “waterslide” – when there’s no water and you’re not really sliding – is beyond me. It’s much more like the vacuum tubes you find at Costco or your local drive up teller.

After being secured into a metal “pod” (nee coffin) guests are whisked down the enclosed tube via a vertical drop, then into the vertical loop. After that – I assume they somehow get you out of the five point harness, and get the “shuttle” back up to the top.

Now, just seeing the GIF of the first human rider – at what point do we begin to have fun? ‘Cause last time I checked – being strapped into a metal cage has never led to good things. Remember “the Chamber” on Fox? Yeah, it didn’t last too long and I suspect this looping “waterslide” won’t go mainstream, either.

Stick with the body and tube slides, people. Some things were just not meant to become reality.


Planet Snoopy Expansion Coming to California’s Great America in 2015

After a lengthy wait, California’s Great America finally announced their 2015 attraction – an expansion of Planet Snoopy and significant renovation of the Kidzville area.

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According to the park, “…three new Planet Snoopy rides will be introduced and be in place for opening day in 2015 when Great America begins its magical 39th season. The entire area known formally known as KidZville will be morphed into the expanded Planet Snoopy.”

These rides include: Joe Cool’s Gr8Sk8, Peanuts 500 and Snoopy’s Space Buggies. Gr8Sk8 will be an interactive ride atop Snoopy’s giant skateboard with the feeling of going off the edge. Peanuts 500 lets racers zoom around the track and slingshot around the track ends, while Snoopy’s Space Buggies will lift astronauts into the air for a gravity defying lunar landing.

“Great America is known for its thrill rides, but we pride ourselves on a being a park for everyone. Enhancing Planet Snoopy and introducing three attractions parents can ride with children adds to our inclusive family atmosphere,” said Great America Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg.

Sharp-eyed observers to the park had noticed a new tombstone appear in the “Ride Graveyard” section of Haunt this year – indicating the change:

Photo: Thrills by the Bay

Photo by: Thrills by the Bay (Used with permission)

This is a welcome addition for the little tikes that visit the park. The Kidzville brand had been largely unchanged since it’s introduction in 1999. The area was well overdue for a refresh, and these rides (originally from Knott’s) will certainly do the trick.

Now, there undoubtedly be some of you that say, “That’s all – first a new Pavilion area, now this?!?” but hear me out:

The Great America Pavilion has been, by all accounts – a stunning success. The park needed to re-invest in it’s own infrastructure to give a more year-round ability – and the Pavilion has done just that. It’s a new, modern facility that can attract new groups to spend their money there. It’s also a long term investment that will pay off for decades, especially with the 49ers next door.

2016 will be the park’s 40th season. (Opened in May, 1976). Traditionally, parks like to “go big” for significant dates, as it’s more marketable. An expansion / refresh of a kids area is a relatively economical new product, that sets the stage for a much larger capital investment in 2016. Park historians will recall that when Kidzville debuted in 1999, “Project Stealth” followed soon thereafter – a $17 million investment.

Also, take a look at the other recent capital investments in Cedar Fair parks: two have received entirely new entrance plazas, capped off with (you guessed it) massive coasters. California’s Great America is one of two parks in the Cedar Fair chain to not have a high capacity, long length hyper / giga coaster (non-looping, steel coaster over 200 feet tall). The park does have a height limit of 224 feet, but also has plenty of space inside the park to build on.

Let the waiting game and speculation begin!


Great America Pavilion Now Open VIP Preview

If you’re a corporate planner in the greater Silicon Valley or the head of your company’s “Party Planning Committee” – there’s a new venue that demands your attention…immediately.

Great American Thrills was given a VIP preview of the Great America Pavilion, which will play host to the official pregame party for the 49ers this upcoming week. We’re still overwhelmed from the experience of this VIP preview, however.

Let’s start at the beginning. Some will argue this is simply a refresh of the old “Paramount Pavilion” space that has been at the park for years. But that’s where the comparisons end.

The room can be set up in several different configurations. The park showed off three of them that day: The Holiday Party, The Product Launch and The Company Gathering.

As you’ll see in these photos, the whole place just oozed class – you didn’t feel like you were at an amusement park – it felt much more like a corporate retreat:

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And then there was the food options – try to remind yourself that this is food at an amusement park – cooked at the park…FRESH. Each park in the chain now also has Executive and Sous Chefs. That should tell you everything you need to know as you view these mouth watering pics below:

 

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Glass Coke bottle – it always tastes better this way!

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Just a few more of the space of this building:

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 The Peanuts Gang was also on hand for the unveiling event. However, don’t let the photo fool you – it was about 93 degrees outside that day!

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And out of nowhere, Charlie Brown wanted to take a selfie (good training, Clayton) so of course I obliged.

It didn’t work out too well with the 24mm lens on the T5i, however. Something about that giant head… 🙂

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So, no – while it’s not a new ride or coaster this year as so many fans always clamor for – the addition of the Great America Pavilion will add an additional, significant revenue stream to the park and help keep it on it’s upward swing for many years to come. In fact, it just might be a better addition than a ride ever could be in the long run.

You can see why Cedar Fair wanted this revamp done here first – many companies in Silicon Valley are looking for new meeting spaces and CGA’s attached amusement park is a big selling point. I can easily see it going to other parks in the chain over the next few years.

Extra special thanks to California’s Great America for the hospitality and invite – can’t wait to see this facility filled up soon.

What do you say? Would you try to bring your group to this event space? Are you going to the Red Zone Pregame? Write us a comment below or on our social media pages – and let’s keep the conversation going!


New Amusement Park Rides Delayed Significantly This Summer

Remember when new rides and attractions opened with the start of the season at your local amusement or theme park? That’s certainly not the case this year.

A record number of attractions are still fighting to open up for the season, this as many parks pass the halfway point of their operational calendar.

And it’s not just one factor that’s throwing things off – it would appear the entire industry ran into a figurative “buzz saw” when it came to opening attractions on time this year. Here’s a list of attractions off the top of my head that have found themselves “behind the 8-ball” just this year:

Falcon’s Fury
Zumanjaro Drop of Doom
Diagon Alley
Verruckt
Break Point Plunge
Goliath
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
New England SkyScreamer

Now, I say “behind the 8-ball” for this reason: parks advertise their newest product to get people excited to come back next year. But if you (or your group) came early in the season, you more than likely missed out on the new attraction completely (at least, this year).

Even professional park travelers like myself plan for and anticipate delays for new rides – but even we’ve been taken aback at rides opening beyond the Fourth of July – especially in seasonal parks closed in the winter.

So what’s behind all these rides having what I consider to be major delays in opening? Are they too extreme or complex? Or is it sometime much simpler? Let’s take a closer look:

 

Weather:

Photo courtesy of Kings Island Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Kings Island Facebook page.

This was the worst winter on record east of the Rocky Mountains. In many cases – construction couldn’t even start until the snow was moved and the ground thawed. Sadly, that didn’t happen until April in some places. (It was still icy in the Great Lakes in JUNE).

 

Fabrication:

There are only so many pieces that can be built by these companies, some of which employ less than 50 employees. If a company waited to buy a product until late in the season, they’ll be at the end of the line, so to speak to receive their new products.

 

Bureaucracy:

"Red tape" has done more to kill off parks than it has to make them safer!

“Red tape” has done more to kill off parks than it has to make them safer!

If you’ve ever played the game “RollerCoaster Tycoon” you know it’s quite easy to build new attractions. But if the game were to be truly accurate, players would have to spend more time in the local permits office than managing their park. The litany of paperwork and regulations ended up killing a famous water park here in California.

While most point to the Golden State as the epicenter of red tape (See Gold Striker’s struggles to finally open) the East Coast is now getting into the act.

After a brutal winter prevented construction for most of the off-season at Six Flags Great Adventure, Zumanjaro – a world record free fall in New Jersey, was finally ready to open for season pass previews after months of delays…

…only to be told by the State that their ride inspector would not be able to get out to the park to officially sign off on its operating permit. Whoops.

 

Design Flaws / Challenges:

Verruckt required a complete re-design after tests showed it wasn't performing as predicted.

Verruckt required a complete re-design after tests showed it wasn’t performing as predicted.

Whether it’s too complex in terms of computer and electrical systems – or just a bad design to begin with – sometimes rides don’t transfer perfectly from the computer and drafting board to the real world. All parks (except the old Action Park) have guests’ safety as their number one priority – and if it means opening a ride late to ensure it does not hurt, maim or kill people – it’s a delay that’s always worth taking.

So will all of the rides and attractions open by the end of THIS season? Only time (and a host of other factors) will tell. One can only hope that parks can get “back on schedule” next year and start debuting rides when the season begins (or shortly thereafter).

What do you think? Are there any other factors I might have missed? LEave me a comment either below or on my social media channels – I’d love to hear what you think!


Tsunami Soaker a Watery Blast of Fun

Each amusement or theme park is different. They each “need” attractions based on their audience and climate.

Many park fans (and even general public guests) have argued that one ride Six Flags Discovery Kingdom was desperately missing was another water ride. The park had two Intamin water rides (both debuted in 1999), a standard 20-person splashwater and rapids flume. But that was it. With temperatures easily pushing above 90 during the summer heat waves, the park needed something more – something new.

For many years, a rumored “log flume” was on the books, designed to interact with the animal exhibits already in the park. Consider it a “Water Safari,” but for whatever reason, the ride never materialized.

So, it was with great anticipation that I rolled up to the park last week to test drive the new Tsumani Soaker – a Mack built “Aqua Twist.”

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The ride is deceptively simple: Four turntables (one large, three small) sink down into water when the ride begins and slowly rotate. Riders are seated in “barrels” that actually float, as they “battle” other riders, those waiting in line and would be passerby’s with water guns attached to their barrels.

As soon as the ride cycle starts, the entire platform sinks, revealing the water though the grated platform. From there – the best I can describe it is this: ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. Water is flying literally everywhere – even the ride operator’s booth isn’t out of the firing line.

Part of the cool interactivity of the ride is the fact that you can still cool off – even if you never go on the ride. Five water guns are stationed outside of the ride’s fence, allowing non-riders to soak those on the ride. Just remember, you’re in range of the guns on the ride, too. You can even nail people waiting in line – which should be interesting to watch if people begin stampeding to try and stay dry.

And don’t let the small streams of water fool you – you will get soaked on this ride, there is no “wet.”

That being said, there are some minor flaws. All of the Great American Thrills team that day noticed a lack of a “long enough” queue line for the ride, which is bound to spill would-be riders into the midway.

I also imagine it’s a matter of time before the ride is modified, to include some form of seatbelt or restraint. Many riders on Media Day were seen standing up or switching seats to avoid the watery blasts. While riders were always safe and secure inside their barrels – most parks would rather you be COMPLETELY secured…in your seat.

The ride cycle is also quite long (this is a complaint?!?) but there’s a reason why this point ends up here. You see, all of the ride’s “guns” are built for right-handed people. We found that we had tired out from the one arm firing about halfway through the cycle (as did many of the other riders).

That being said, the long ride time also ensures no one will leave the ride dry. Scratch that – the ride’s cycle length ensures no one leaves the ride that isn’t drenched. Even with only one-fourth of the seats occupied, the entire Great American Thrills team was soaked to the bone. I can’t imagine how quickly you’ll be drenched when this ride is operating at full capacity.

Despite my qualms (and I’m a picky person), Tsunami Soaker is the perfect “family flat ride” that Discovery Kingdom desperately needed. It will be a welcome relief during the summer and if you bring an extra set of clothes. (You can always use the air dryer that’s now conveniently located at the ride exit too – though it’ll cost you $5.00 for three minutes).

WORD OF WARNING: Get a locker before going on this ride. Any electronic device is NOT safe from the inevitable drenching in your pocket, or in a backpack or other bay lying on the side of the ride.