Yesterday, California’s Great America made their official announcement on Winterfest – a holiday-themed event that will extend the season nearly to the end of the calendar year.
And yet, the park appears to have missed out on a major marketing and event opportunity…New Year’s Eve.
For decades, the South Bay has tried to find its identity, beyond the shadow of San Francisco. For those of you not from the area, it’s actually a big deal to South Bay people, especially considering we’re the larger population area. One only has to look at the coverage for the recent Super Bowl for evidence of that. San Francisco also has a tradition of a massive fireworks show at midnight to commemorate the New Year.
In sharp contrast, the South Bay does not have a marquee New Year’s Eve show. Instead, we have to remind our residents not to shoot their firearms into the sky.
So, it was a bit shocking to me to see in the park press release yesterday that Winterfest festivities will end the day before New Year’s Eve, which this year falls on Saturday night.
Are you catching my drift yet?
Simply put – how can you put on a first-time holiday event and not throw a New Year’s Eve celebration – especially if you’re already open the day before and more importantly, in an area DESPERATE to find such a tradition? Just imagine for a moment: an evening of fun capped off with one of the coolest new traditions in the South Bay – falling into 2017.
You heard me right. New York says they “drop the ball” in Times Square, when in reality a computer controlled winch slowly lowers that ball down a flagpole. Why can’t California’s Great America use the park’s tallest “flagpole” – Drop Tower – and give 24 lucky people the opportunity to leave the ground in 2016, and “drop in” to 2017, all at the stroke of midnight?
But Kris – how are you going to ensure they drop precisely at midnight?
Easy! The ride has a manual mode – which allows the operator to release the cabins manually from the ground. When the clock strikes 12, all they have to do is push the button on the control panel and wheeeee here comes 2017, complete with fireworks going off in the distance (or even better – off the top of the tower itself).
And here’s the best part – the 24 seats could be auctioned off, with the benefactor being local charities.
Okay Kris, but what if the weather isn’t conducive to riding Drop Tower and what about families who may want to come? (I.E. rain and wind)
No problem – you simply move to the other “ball drop” – or in this case – “ball raise” – the Star Tower. It’s enclosed, also able to do manual modes and breaks down maybe once every other season.
That same auction could take place, albeit with more participants – and anyone can ride (with chaperone, of course).
To me, this seems like a no-brainer, probably because I proposed this very event all the way back in 2003. I was much younger then; a wide-eyed, new employee of the park who didn’t understand how corporations worked. The idea never made it past the suggestion box and I didn’t make it past my second season.
Nonetheless, if you’re going to make a new event stick in this industry, you have to go big that first year to make it beyond memorable. Otherwise, it won’t warrant additional capital for the next year and worse – people won’t come back.
Discovery Kingdom did it their first year by bringing in the world’s largest Christmas tree – what will CGA’s big selling point be?
To sum up – without a New Year’s Eve celebration to cap it off, Winterfest at California’s Great America isn’t really as good of an event as it could or more importantly SHOULD be.
Oh and since I’ve been giving away so much free advice in this article, CGA folks – you may want to A.) just hire me to do this full time for you or B.) check out several other ways how you can score big points for your 40th anniversary.
What better way to celebrate the centennial of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition – than with our award-winning episode of “Lost Parks of Northern California” – feel free to share with your friends, family, SF fans and local television stations!
It may have been a century ago – but pieces of the fair are still very much with us today! #PPIE100
“Lost Parks” fans – our latest episode is heading to a television near you!
Our 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition episode will be broadcast on cable channel 30 in San Jose and Campbell tonight at 8:30pm!
If you’re not in the Bay Area, or don’t have Comcast cable, you can also catch the episode here:
It was our most challenging “Lost Parks” episode – ever. More locations that we’ve ever done before. More money spent than ever before – but it was all worth it.
Presenting the first episode of SEASON TWO of the “Lost Parks of Northern California” – the Pan Pacific Exposition (World’s Fair) of 1915:
Be sure to LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE the video with all your friends, family and favorite cable networks – who knows, we might someday take the show national – but we’ll need your help to do it!
Yes, it’s been awhile since our last episode of “Lost Parks of Northern California” but I can assure you – the wait is worth it.
Presenting the first teaser trailer for our next episode, the 1915 San Francisco Pan Pacific Exposition (World’s Fair). We expect to wrap on the episode and debut it before #CoasterCon this summer.
If you’re a fan of amusement parks, roller coasters, history, organs and trains – you cannot afford to miss this episode!
Follow the journey by searching #LostParks on your favorite social media network!
Looking for a park-related activity this weekend? Why not join the “Lost Parks” crew on Treasure Island, for the 75th anniversary of the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair!
The event is being held in Building One on Treasure Island, the same building that doubled as the terminal to the Berlin Airport in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Learn more about the event, here.
It’s also FREE to attend, unless you live on the east side of the bay – you’ll have to pay the Bay Bridge toll – but only use half of the bridge! Sorry about that…
Many apologies for the lack of updates on the site as of late – we’ve been working several different major projects that have required a bit more of my time and attention. That being said – they’re going to be EARTH SHAKERS when we can release more information on them, so stay tuned!
As for the “Lost Parks of Northern California” – if you follow us on social media, you know we’re already hard at work on principal videography on the next episode – this time, focusing on parks designed to be lost from the beginning – the 1915 and 1939 World’s Fairs of San Francisco.
As you can imagine – there’s a TON of work and locations involved; coupled with our skeleton “staff” of volunteers, it’s going to take a bit longer than other episodes to produce – but if you’re fans of our work on previous episodes, you already know that the wait will be well worth it.
Be sure to follow the journey by searching / using the #lostparks hashtag on your favorite social media account!
Today, the American Coaster Enthusiasts revealed the official design to Coaster Con XXXVII – and I can’t help but laugh – as it’s nearly identical to the REAL proposal to build a coaster on both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges!
Learn more about the incredible (albeit insane) idea of the Golden Gate Bolt in the next episode of the “Lost Parks of Northern California” debuting in the next few months!
With the event coming up this June in Northern California, we’re all just a little excited to show off just how much we love our parks and our history – let’s ride!
Found a great article today on one of my favorite San Francisco institutions, the decidedly retro “Musée Mécanique” at Fisherman’s Wharf.
Originally located in the basement of the Cliff House and before then at Playland-at-the-Beach, this eclectic collection of antique mechanical instruments, games and displays (some well over 100 years old) is by far the best way to spend your afternoon at the wharf, especially if the cruises to Alcatraz are sold out or crazy packed.
Check out the article here, from SF Weekly:
From the people who brought you the massive Hangar One at Moffett Field, The Empire State Building and Hoover Dam, comes arguably the grandest, most scenic (and most insane) roller coaster idea of ALL TIME!
The stats for this proposed duo of coasters are simply staggering. 1,000 feet tall – 750 foot drops – a 190 mph top speed. Even by today’s standards, these two coasters would have easily kept their records for height and speed.
By comparison, the Transamerica Pyramid – which was built in 1972 and is the tallest building in San Francisco – is 850 feet tall.
The tallest roller coaster in the world currently is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure. It tops out at a measly 456 feet high. Formula Rossa in the UAE is the fastest in the world, at a yawn inducing 149 mph. Heck, even the “bunny hills” on these coasters were proposed to do 40 mph over them…at 1,000 feet in the air!
Where do I line up?
The folks in the Depression sure thought bigger than we do today, and it’s understandable. It was a dark time for America – and people needed something – anything – in order to lift their spirits. What better way than to build something that was (and may never be) seen by human eyes?
I’m not exactly sure how they would have propelled the ride at such speeds, or how to get it up there to begin with – I know for a fact that Cal OSHA would laugh the proposal right out the door in today’s litigious world…not to mention it’s pretty clear the physics of a ride with that much wind resistance would never be able to complete its circuit!
Ironically, two identical roller coasters WERE built at each of the 1939 Expositions in New York and San Francisco. After the fair ended in New York, the ride was eventually moved…to Riverside Park in Massachusetts, eventually becoming Six Flags New England – where it still runs today as – you guessed it – “Thunderbolt,” the same name proposed for the rides on the bridges.
And yes, you can expect this and many other amazing nuggets of coaster knowledge and “what if” history to appear in an upcoming episode of the “Lost Parks of Northern California” series!
Read the whole article, from KPIX-5 in San Francisco, here, or just copy and paste the link below:
Diane Disney Miller, the last surviving , direct descendent of Walt and Lillian Disney passed away earlier this week in San Francisco, from complications due to a fall she sustained several months ago. She was 79 years old.
Miller is best known as the champion of the “Walt Disney Concert Hall” in Southern California, as a winery proprietor in Napa at Silverado Vineyards as well as the backing behind the Walt Disney Family Museum, located on the Presidio in San Francisco.
But perhaps Miller’s greatest contribution to the arts has been missed by many – mostly because it came when she was only a young child…
It is said that Diane and her sisters’ favorite book growing up was a book by British author, P.L. Travers. The story, about a magical Nanny was so popular in the Disney household, the sisters would routinely beg their father to make a movie of the book – an odyssey that took Walt Disney 20 years to complete. The upcoming Disney film, “Saving Mr. Banks” tells the behind-the-scenes story of how Walt was able to finally get the rights to make “Mary Poppins” (considered by many to be the greatest Disney film of all time).
Miller was a philanthropist by all definitions – donating millions to causes near and dear to her heart, usually related to the arts. She will be sorely missed in the arts, wine and amusement park communities.
She is survived by seven children, 13 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
There’s something about danger that makes our stories better, don’t you agree?
Case in point – Producer Nick and I were heading out to the SF Zoo this past Sunday to film a segment about the 1922 Dentzel Carousel. (It happens to be the only operating piece of the short-lived Pacific City Amusement Park at Coyote Point.)
Unfortunately, the park was beyond capacity, both in parking and general space, as they were celebrating Chinese New Year. With the weather as spectacular as it was, we should have known the park would be crowded.
We parked on Herbst Way, which turned out to be smack dab in the back of the park. Sadly, we were unaware of this, so…like sheep in a herd, we followed the pack of people who purported to know where the entrance to the zoo was.
Turns out, it was the entrance to the Great Highway and Skyline Blvd. (CA-35).
This is the result…
Now Producer Nick and I are all for excitement – when it’s in the controlled and safe confines of an amusement park. But when you have cars whizzing by at 55 mph and you’re carrying upwards of $6,000 worth of camera and video equipment – it makes for a hairy situation.
But it got me to thinking – even if this was a lame day to shoot video, it would still be memorable – almost legendary. And while we DID end up making it into the zoo without any problems, and filming went along smoothly – the one thing we’re probably going to take away from today was that crazy walk.
Funny how things work out in the end, huh?
Stay tuned for the ACTUAL video we were shooting for – the Lost Amusement Parks of Northern California…coming soon!
For most people, today is a holiday about love. For others, it’s about the over commercialization of a natural human emotion.
For me, it’s cause to celebrate – to hold my hat up high and say, happy 154th birthday to George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.!
One of the most recognizable names in the amusement industry – maybe only behind Walt Disney – Ferris is responsible for the engineering and building of his namesake, the Ferris wheel.
Debuting at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Ferris’ wheel was steam driven and used 36 cars the size of train cars to take 60 passengers EACH as moving observation decks.
The ride was never designed to be thrilling (the ride lasted about 30 minutes with loading) but rather, to be an observation attraction. The wheel was beefy in construction and simply dwarfed all other structures at the fair. It was meant to be an answer to the Eiffel Tower – and it delivered. The construction methods and engineering is strikingly familiar to the Parisian icon.
Even by modern standards – Ferris’ first wheel was massive. While most wheels today are transported via trailer and rarely break the 100-foot mark, Ferris’ observation wheel in Chicago was 264 feet tall. (That’s over 25 stories!) To this day, only a small number of wheels have eclipsed this number.
Sans the occasional upgrade to the passenger compartments, or the frightening concept of the eccentric wheel (Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Wonder Wheel) or the ultramodern spoke-less wheel (Big O) the general concept of the ride has not changed much in over 100 years.
It’s a true blast from the past that is in quite the renaissance – and we’re not talking carnival wheels, here. You see, the large wheel is making a huge comeback that would make Ferris proud.
Attractions such as the London Eye and Singapore Flyer have brought back the original concept – large, observation attractions. Four, count ‘em FOUR wheels over 500’ tall are either under construction or currently proposed in the United States alone, including a proposed 625’ wheel on Staten Island. Makes you wonder why no one out here in the Bay Area has called to build one yet. (Talk about scenery to see!)
Sadly, Ferris’ legacy is somewhat tainted these days – it’s become more fashionable to call them “observation wheels,” rather than the name which was connected to them. A “Ferris Wheel” it would seem, should only be found at a fair – an “observation wheel” is more likely to be found in a trendy metropolis.
His wheel met an unfortunate end as well. After being packed and shipped to the St. Louis Exposition of 1904, it was simply blown up – not popular enough to turn a profit. Ferris met an equally untimely death – he died of
tuberculosis at age 37.
So the next time you’re at your local amusement park and see a Ferris wheel, look skyward, and thank Mr. Ferris – for creating one of the most prolific amusement attractions in human history.
And maybe, just maybe – it IS appropriate that Ferris was born on what would become Valentines Day – what other ride allows you to make out with your sweetie in public – without almost anyone knowing?*
*Except the person sitting behind you…
A wonderful video collage of the Great Wheel while in Chicago:
The BEST Great America site on the planet, featuring the Sky Whirl triple Ferris wheel:
Being a lifelong devotee of the amusement park,* I have always been fascinated with the historical aspects of the parks my family visited – especially while we were there.
Correction: I was not made AWARE of the incredible, historical aspects of the parks, until 1993.
For a wide-eyed ten year old, it was an ethereal moment to discover from your father that “the Demon” at Great America used to be sans loops. Or, that a ride could be called “Whizzer” and not have to do with a bodily function.
Even as I close in on the big three-oh, it always gives me a giddy feeling when I discover something new about the amusement parks I grew up with as a child.
In a way, it’s like an oral tradition that someday, God willing, I could pass along to my children.
Fast forward a decade and change, and the company I was working for was part of a battle for historic preservation. In that battle, the passion and spark for yearning to know more about how we all got here was re-ignited.
It certainly helped the project along when the company went under suddenly, too…
So in this new series, I hope to bring all of you on a journey – a journey back in time; to a place where time went by just a little bit slower; where people didn’t run into you on the sidewalk as they were texting on their cell phones; where the family outing to an amusement park was much more than just flashing your season pass – it was an adventure in and of itself.
Join me, as I try to seek out and re-discover the “lost” amusement parks of the San Francisco Bay Area and in the process, reclaim our colorful, amusement history. “Let’s ride!”
*Lifelong fan since my father forced me on the Tidal Wave at Great America in July of 1993.
1001 Fairgrounds Drive
Originally started as an oceanarium inRedwood Cityback in 1968, this hybrid park has not forgotten its roots as an educational outlet for the animal kingdom. Today, hundreds of species of birds, fish, tigers, sea lions, dolphins and orca live at the park, giving guests a stark contrast to its larger thrill rides.
Built next to the bay along Redwood Shores, Marine World was a small oceanarium whose mission was to educate as well as entertain. In the mid 1970’s, the park merged with the fledgling Africa USA fromLos Angeles. By doing so, it infused many more species of animals that guests could only dream about seeing on an African safari.
Rising land prices eventually forced the park to search for other locations and found one at it’s current site,Vallejo,CA. Today, the park has grown quite a bit since its inception. There are now eight roller coasters to its colorful collection. However, the park keeps a firm hold on its mission to provide a thrilling, memorable experience while taking away a greater appreciation of the animal world.
The Three Areas of Six Flags DiscoveryKingdom
The park has recently spent several million dollars upgrading the interior of the park, most notably in themeing each third of the park for easier navigation. For the casual visitor, this makes navigation much more simple.
Land – This area is where most of the animal species reside in the park, and is the oldest section of the park. Don’t miss: Odin’sTemple of the Tiger, Elephant Encounter, Giraffe Dock and the Butterfly Encounter.
A quick side note on the Butterfly Encounter: if you’re not a fan of flying insects or extremely squeamish, I suggest you just visit the gift shop. Butterflies (although perfectly harmless) grow quite large in here and can get very friendly with guests. Plus, they don’t like being swatted or smushed.
Sea – Home to most of the park’s aquatic species, attractions here include:
Sea Lion Stadium: Let Odin & Seasil bring smiles to everyone’s face with their wild and wacky antics.
StingRayBay: Pet a real Sting Ray.
Dolphin Encounter: See and feed Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins.
Walrus Experience: Them tusks are big!!!
Penguin Encounter: These adorable flightless birds show their true talent, “flying” through the water.
For the thrill seekers, three of the park’s coaster’s reside here:
V2– Vertical Velocity: A unique inverted shuttle coaster, it takes passengers from 0-70mph in just a few seconds through a barrel roll and then backwards up a vertical spike. The ride will perform three “circuits” before coming to a stop back in the station.
Roar: A throwback to the classic wooden twister coasters of the 1920’s, Roar is a powerful and intense wooden coaster that is not for the faint of heart.
Superman, Ultimate Escape (OPENING SUMMER 2012): Discovery Kingdom shocked the coaster world in late 2011 with the surprise announcement of this prototype attraction from Premier Rides, the innovator of the linear induction or LIM launch. While the park already has a LSM launching coaster in V2, Superman is a complete circuit coaster complete with a NON-inverting loop.
Sky – Aptly named area of the park; this is where you’ll find most of the larger thrill rides in the park, literally right up front.
Boomerang: Shuttle forward and backward through three mind bending loops. This coaster is very intense – all the inversions (loops) are one after the other, with only a small pause in-between.
Medusa: The park’s signature attraction; riders are whisked 150 feet up, only to flip through eight different inversions, all while riding above the track, with no floor below! Don’t look down, she could turn you to stone…
Kong: This inverted coaster packs a punch not many other coasters can. Five dizzying inversions will leave you speechless; it’s all done while hanging below the track!
Where to Eat –
Besides the usual theme park fare found in the food court (which is located just past the games areas) the park offers several unique food options to parks, including: Gordon Biersch Oasis Club, Panda Express, Johnny Rockets, Subway and a Cold Stone Creamery.
Six Flags recently began an “Online Meal Voucher” program, which claims to save you both time and money by purchasing your meals ahead of time, and redeeming your vouchers for food the day of your trip. Although innovative, I’ve found it really doesn’t save you much time. The only way it really saves you money is by preventing you from eating more food at other locations.
This is a good idea for those who love to have everything planned about their trip well ahead of time. (Even what you may feel like eating that day!) Be advised, if you feel like eating something else when you’re at the park – there are no refunds or exchanges on your meal vouchers.
It’s not very difficult to find the major coasters here, as they stick out predominantly on the park’s skyline. If the park looks or even feels crowded, the best course of action is to hit every major coaster as if you’re circuit training. Start at one end of the park, and work your way to the other. If time is a significant issue, consider investing in a “FlashPass.” For $15 per person, you can reserve your space in line, while you visit other attractions. When your predetermined time comes up, simply enter through the “FlashPass” entrance and your wait will be significantly reduced if there’s a wait at all.
Families with Children:
When you arrive, make sure to pick up a park map and show schedule. Try to convince the kids to save the rides until later on in the day and see every show you can. Your kids will thank you when they get to play tug of war with an elephant. (Spoiler alert: The elephants have never lost!) Another must-see show is the Shouka Spectacular. If you want to stay dry, stay away from the lower bowl of seats. The kids on the other hand, should experience what it’s like to be hit with several hundred gallons of cold salt water at least once in their lifetime. Try to keep the rides to a minimum until later in the day, when most of the shows are no longer scheduled. If you have time flexibility, be sure to check out Thomas Town and Looney Tunes Seaport. This can also be the same plan used to tackle the park if you’re bringing grandkids.
Other Tips –
When walking to or from the parking lot, be mindful it’s a long ½ mile walk. To get the juices flowing at the start of your day, you should make the walk to the park from the lot. But definitely wait for the tram when you head back out, no matter how long the line appears.
Once inside the park, jet on over to the all-day use locker pavilion past Guest Relations and behind the funnel cake restaurant. Make sure to bring along anything you might want for the rest of the day, to avoid the long trip back out to the car and back. This includes pants and a sweatshirt if the weather is expected to be cool later in the night. This way, you’ll have more time and energy to spend in the park, rather than walking back and forth that ½ mile to your car and back. These time-costly trips can easily take 30 minutes away from your day inside the park.
Final Tips –
If at all possible, avoid visiting this park on weekends during the summer as well as during any Cheerleader Competition or live concert by Lake Chabot. The park can be quickly overwhelmed with people and crowding can become an issue in smaller pathway areas.
If you’re a fan of being scared or really love Halloween, be sure to experience Fright Fest. Zombies take over the midway, haunted mazes pop up inside the park. You might even catch an authentic “freak show.” This spooktacular event begins around 4p.m. each October operating day and is not recommended for those under 14 years old. You have been warned!
Also, make sure to try and visit during the winter “Holiday in the Park” event, as this is one of only two parks open for significant periods of time in the winter here in Northern California.