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

cgahaunt2009It’s baaack!

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

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

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

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

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

Happy hauntings, everyone! Buhahahaha!


Gold Striker Closed Only Temporarily for Modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold Striker thrills riders on a recent operating day.

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

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

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


Video

Gold Striker Video – Rider Reactions

With Gold Striker now officially open to the public at California’s Great America – enjoy this on-ride video of myself and “Lost Parks” Producer, Nicholas Laschkewitsch (who is also the ACE NorCal Asst. Regional Rep) taking in a ride.


Gold Striker NOW OPEN at California’s Great America

Yes, it’s official. As of this afternoon, the Gold Rush has officially met your adrenaline rush – GOLD STRIKER at California’s Great America is now offically OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!

Look for a full media review in the next few days – but for now, get out and enjoy Gold Striker at California’s Great America!

Gold Striker at California's Great America

Gold Striker is officially open to the public!

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Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (Show Review)

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Yesterday evening, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom was kind enough to invite Great American Thrills™ out to the park for an exclusive preview of their latest entertainment offering – “Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic.”

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

The colors of the performance – just like the performers – are vibrant & stand out.

This program is unlike anything we’ve experienced here at a Northern California park – it’s very glitzy and the production value is VERY high. If you were a fan of the “Marriott Era” of entertainment offerings at, say Great America, or the quality of shows that Disney parks offer – then this show will bring back good memories for you.

It also sets a very high precedent for entertainment offerings in the coming years at all the Bay Area amusement / theme parks. (I.E. You’re on notice!) Unlike many other shows at parks which are produced in-house, Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic is a partnership between Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Cirque Productions.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

There are seven individual performances in all, this one featuring a hula loop artist.

If you’ve ever been to a “cirque” style show before, you’ll see many of those elements in the program (we can’t really call this a show – it’s much more than that). The program features a showcase of talents, that as the park says, “…combines the grace, power and agility of our bottlenose dolphins and the amazing spectacle of of true performance artists…”

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom - photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

If you don’t feel out of shape after looking at this, you must be one of these two performers!

As you would expect, the entire program is themed with an aquatic flair to it. Costumes mimic sea life, actors are adorned with prosthetics to give them a more “fishy” quality and the entire amphitheater (formerly Dolphin Harbor Stadium) is adorned with colorful graphics strewn about the facility.

There are seven parts to the show in all, each with their own featured characters and skills on display. During pre-production of the show, nearly 300 acts auditioned to be one of those seven featured performances.Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The pace is good and the program keeps moving for the most part with no real lag time. During the human performances, the dolphins show off their stuff as well, including a particularly entertaining dolphin hula hoop behavior that you’ll simply have to see for yourself.

The show was created, produced and directed by Neil Goldberg, an acclaimed Broadway director who also founded the Cirque Dreams troupe over 20 years ago. In other words, this guy knows what he’s doing.

“Our goal was to complement the personalities of the dolphins and performers through playfulness…and unparalleled showmanship,” said Goldberg. “It will be one of those unique, memorable entertainment attractions rarely experienced.”

I’ll be posting a full, exclusive interview with Goldberg later this week.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Colorful characters abound in this production – the first for a Northern California amusement park.

The only thing that I can find wrong with the show, is that it has a limited run – just from Memorial Day Weekend though August 11th. But in a way, that works – it makes it a limited engagement, so the performances are better and more special to those who witness them as spectators. It’s quality over quantity, and something that most parks would not think twice about.

I’ll be posting a full interview with the Creator and Director of Cirque Dreams Splashtastic, Neil Goldberg, later this week.

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The dolphins are not always at center stage, unlike how most aquatic shows tend to be – rather, they work in tandem with the performers to create a sort of serendipity on stage.

For now – get your plans in now and get out to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to experience this one of a kind piece of amusement park entertainment – it’s certainly worth the trip.

As always, Great American Thrills™ would like to thank those who made this post possible: Neil Goldberg, Nancy Chan, Lee Munro as well as the entire staff and crew of Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Cirque Dreams – Splashtastic!

Cirque Dreams Splashtastic at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Photo (c) 2103 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

The entire cast takes a bow at the end of the program – to a standing ovation no less – during the first public performance.

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Gold Striker *ACTUAL REVIEW* at California’s Great America

Gold Striker - www.greatamericanthrills.net

“Wow.”

That’s the word most people were saying after they got off Gold Striker this evening. While not open to the public yet, California’s Great America invited people, including yours truly, to come out and participate in a promo shoot for commercials and still advertising.

Gold Striker - www.greatamericanthrills.net

Gold Striker looms large over Carousel Plaza and the front entrance to the park.

Folks, this ride is the REAL DEAL and is setting up to be a real “sleeper hit” across the country. Most people know Great America as a park that seems to enjoy removing rides rather than building them. Gold Striker might just make you forgive them (maybe).

The fun starts before you get to the lift hill (that’s right, BEFORE you get to the lift hill!) Folks in the rear seats will appreciate the incredible whip of the turnaround out of the station, which could be the tightest I’ve ever seen taken at speed before on a woodie) and those in the front seat will appreciate the airtime (yes, I said AIRTIME) on the bunny hill before the lift.

After ascending the lift, riders enter the “initial descent tunnel” and that’s where all hell breaks loose. The ride is fast, noisy and the effect of blasting out fo the tunnel is impossible to describe.

From there the ride does a VERY close flyby of the station stairs, giving wonderful photo / video opportunities. A floater hill and a few head choppers later, the ride finds it’s speed…and keeps it until the brake run.

I don’t want to completely ruin the ride for you, but know that there are many “pops” of air on this ride, usually to set you up for another element. Call it a “tag team coaster” because they work perfectly together.

Coming into the final turn, you hit the magnetic (it’s Silicon Valley, gotta have some technology) and then back to the station. Pictorium fans will be saddened to learn that two of the entrances have been demolished, but the building itself still stands.

Gold Striker - www.greatamericanthrills.net

“Millennium Flyer” trains harken back to the “Golden Age” of coaster design. The trains are Gold / Red, Red Gold – in 49ers shades.

To quote my ride mate for this marathon session, “Airtime is back with GCI.”

We squeezed in nine (9) rides before the park shut down the line. Average wait times were 15 minutes, shrinking as more and more of the general public left. This ride is NOT EASY to marathon, but for all the RIGHT reasons. It is INTENSE, BREAKNECK PACED and to be quite honest, many of us in attendance were pinching ourselves, wondering how we got this ride to come here in the first place.

So, in conclusion…

This is a winner all-around for a park more recently known for REMOVING rides than ADDING them. Be prepared for sharp transitions, “set up” surprises and well-timed elements. The ride is smooth with little attitude. This is not an, “airtime machine” but it has well over 8-10 (I kept losing count) pop airtimes. There are moments when you’re riding only on up-stops.

Now, you can take your kids on Grizzly as a warm up and test their (and your) mettle on Gold Striker.

In my opinion, this coaster could EASILY take on El Toro in national polls and in many cases it should WIN.

The ONLY thing missing from this ride…is YOU!

To learn more about Gold Striker or to purchase tickets to the park, visit www.cagreatamerica.com

Gold Striker logo


Our Next Lost Park

It’s official – our next lost park has finally been chosen!

photo

“Do you know the way to San Jose…”

and the way to Luna Park?