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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!

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Ride Review: California’s Great America – The Grizzly

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry

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

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

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry.

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

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

But wait – there’s more!

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

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

Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry

Smiles, not grimaces now adorn riders of the Grizzly.

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

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

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


Gold Striker Closed Only Temporarily for Modifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold Striker thrills riders on a recent operating day.

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

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

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


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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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

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