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?”
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.
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:
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.
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?!?
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:
Known as “The Consulate” – it’s primary function is a meeting room, where some of the biggest decisions about the park have gone down.
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?”
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.
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!
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: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.
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.
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:
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…
Taste of Orleans Festival at California’s Great America Serves Up Food, Spirits and Nostalgia
Rarely do I find myself speechless after coming home from a park. After hundreds of different parks, it’s difficult to impress me.
However, I am proud to report that after taking in the first day of “Taste of Orleans” at California’s Great America, this is one of those moments. Not only were all my expectations met, they were exceeded.
Let’s begin with a quick background: “Taste of Orleans” is a first-of-it’s-kind for Great America – a food and wine festival, themed with Cajun dishes and flavor. But, it is much more than that. In my eyes, it is the re-birth of both Orleans Place and of theme inside the park.
I’ll get into that a bit later – let’s head back to the food for now…
After picking up your tasting card for $25, you can visit six different food stations, which feature different, Cajun-inspired dishes. They are: Creole Meatballs, Bourbon House BBQ Chicken Wings, Crawfish Etoufee, Chicken-Andouille Gumbo, Red Beans and Ride and two Beignets for dessert:
Portion sizes were quite liberal compared to other tasting events I’ve attended – and I found that I was quite satisfied after sampling everything (sans the beignets – I saved those for dessert later on in the day). All the food was fresh and full of flavor – definitely not your typical amusement park fare.
But where this event really took off for me was after sunset.
In what must be a “dry run” for their upcoming “Winterfest” in November and December, the park has placed quite a bit of LED lights throughout the area, similar to International Street at Kings Dominion. The effect is stunning – and the area once dark and dreary at night is now colorful and welcoming:
Consider just a few years ago, park employees had to fight to get the lettering of “ORLEANS PLACE” back on the brick entrance to the area. Now, it’s full-on Mardi Gras. Did I mention the stilt-walkers handing out beads to everyone; the live bands playing zydeco music or the theme-appropriate employee uniforms? It doesn’t just evoke New Orleans – it SCREAMS it.
Then for the highlight of the night – a Cajun-themed fireworks show. I must have spotted three or four fire marshals in the park, with extinguishers at their side – that’s when you KNOW it’s going to be one hell of a show.
And was it ever.
While difficult to capture perfectly, these two shots say it all – California’s Great America went FULL-ON DISNEY with their first attempt at what they call, “Immersive Fireworks.”
Sign me up. Permanently:
Now, one of the benefits I can see of events like this: All the decor and lighting CAN STAY UP throughout the season. Move it earlier in the season (say to a traditionally non-busy day) and you’ve themed the area for the rest of the season.
In essence, “Taste of Orleans” has un-done decades of de-theming at this park and brought back the magic and majesty of the Marriott-era…and I do not say that lightly.
The “Paramount Blue” benches in the area are being swapped out for more traditional black iron, brown wood models. The “Girl Space” store was changed to the new location of the Great America Outlet and both it and the “Trending Now” shop sport more authentic, theme-appropriate signage.
Zydeco and jazz permeated the area on new speakers – a much-needed upgrade from the ground box models (that sounded worse than a subway announcement) found elsewhere in the park. And when that music wasn’t playing, live performers were – either a local group of high schoolers, marching through the Rue and eventually making their way to the top of the Consulate balcony, where they drew quite the crowd.
Anyone who says people go to parks for just the coasters does not understand the industry. Guests go to be ENTERTAINED. And was I and thousands of others ENTERTAINED at this event? Oh hell yeah:
When you see people openly dancing in the streets to the music being played – you have hit that perfect nerve inside them that only theme parks can do: make a guest forget they’re in Santa Clara, CA – and transport them to a completely different place.
After seeing just how spectacular this event was, I was surprised to not see any promotion about the event on any media that I saw or heard (TV or radio). The Bay Area has quite a “foodie” culture – and I can easily see hundreds, if not thousands of “foodiphiles” showing up to see what all the hub bub was about – so long as they knew about it. Maybe I just missed the spots…
My only real gripes from the event itself were minor: a lack of water cups at the food booths, lack of dedicated seating areas to sit and relax and no dedicated line for beignets at Sweet Tooth. But that’s about it.
Knott’s has the Boysenberry Festival. Carowinds has a Taste of Carolina. And now, NorCal’s Cedar Fair park finally has a marquee foodie event to call it’s own.
If events such as “Taste of Orleans” is (pardon the pun) a taste of the future of this park, then the future smells pretty good from where I stand. Do yourself a favor and plan to visit California’s Great America on July 24th, 30th or 31st and experience the earnest revival of a legendary theme park.
“TASTE OF ORLEANS” FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL TIPS:
Don’t wait in line for a food or wine card in Pizza Orleans or Sweet Treats – the tasting cards are available at the smaller merchandise booths as well.
Watch out for chalk art along the Rue – you might be stepping on a Picasso and not realize it!
Best spot for fireworks viewing is along the Rue in Orleans Place.
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.
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!)
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:
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
California’s Great America’s Winterfest forgot New Year’s Eve
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.
California’s Great America announces Winterfest year-round operations
Today, California’s Great America announced “Winterfest” a spectacular larger than life holiday event. The event will be in direct competition with Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” which has been running for several years now up in Vallejo. “Winterfest” will be free to attend for anyone with a Gold of Platinum season pass.
Included in the winter wonderland will be a skating rink in front of Carousel Columbia, light displays, holiday shows, limited ride operation and holiday themed food options.
It will be capped off with one of the Bay Area’s tallest Christmas trees and even giant toy soldiers greeting guests.
Not too bad.
The five-week WinterFest celebration begins November 25 for weekend operation. Daily operations run December 19th through 23rd and 26th through 30th.
Suddenly, buying a season pass to the park this year got a whole lot more enticing. Certainly the addition of “Mass Effect” wasn’t enough to bring me back for another year – but this might do the trick.
Now, the park HAS tried something similar in the past – in the first season, back in 1976. Those small rings near Carousel Columbia’s top were to help mount Christmas lights. Unfortunately, it didn’t do so well, mostly due to poor weather. However, with the success of Six Flags’ “Holiday in the Park” in nearby Vallejo – it seems like a no-brainer to capitalize on the demand.
The other major issue is ride rehabilitation schedules. Staying open longer means some rides won’t be ready in late March, when the park opens for its 2017 season. Disneyland has perfected this art with a complete schedule of when rides will be down.
However, no other park has been able to duplicate this, usually resorting to single train operation for a majority of the early-season. We shall see how this park is able to handle the lack of time for annual rehabs.
California’s Great America won’t become a “lost park”
California’s Great America has been a fixture of the City of Santa Clara and for that matter the entirety of Northern California since late 1975. But a recent story by SanJoseInside.com pointed to several sources inside Santa Clara City Hall, that said they don’t expect the park to be around for much longer.
Now, I know something about “Lost Parks” and this story doesn’t feel like the pattern that those parks have followed.
Specifically, the story claims that Mayor Jamie Matthews, along with Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor oversaw a presentation by the Irvine Company (who have ties to the 49ers) that showed the Great America site replaced by an office complex and high density housing (condos).
I reached out to Mayor Matthews, who told me he, “…did not recall any such presentation,” and added that his preference, “…would be to see the park stay. I was there opening day.”
Repeated calls to Councilwoman Gillmor were not returned.
So why are we even entertaining this idea that the park land is being sold off?
Well, when the City of Santa Clara bought the park and land from Marriott’s back in the 1980’s, it was to stop the hotel chain from building – you guessed it – an office park. Santa Clara purchased the park via it’s redevelopment agency and wrote into the city’s master plan that the land was to be used for an amusement park/ The park would be owned by the city but assets (I.E. rides and improvements) would be owned and operated by an established amusement park operator.
Fast forward to the 2000’s, and California’s legislature effectively raids redevelopment agencies coffers to pay down the defect – and eventually disbands them, forcing them to sell off all their assets. The land under Great America, along with the golf course and convention center in Santa Clara are part of the redevelopment agencies’ assets.
Indeed, the park does sit in the middle of a real estate buying boom (where the average household rent is in excess of $2300 for a one bedroom apartment). Commercial real estate is just as in-demand.
However, several sources tell Great American Thrills an entirely different story. They say that Cedar Fair is indeed, committed to keeping Great America around for the long haul, citing the length of the current lease – which was recently extended to 2074 – a recent re-zoning application, which will allow for newer attractions and several clauses in the lease itself that give the park the upper hand.
Here’s the full statement from the corporate office in Sandusky, OH:
“We believe that Great America has compelling potential for future development as an amusement park and entertainment venue. Consistent with our long-term vision for Great America we have filed a rezoning application with the City of Santa Clara that would allow for the addition of new attractions, shows and events that will enhance the guest experience. In light of the fact that our ground lease runs through 2074 we have the necessary control of the property to pursue our long-term vision. In addition, we have also created enough financial flexibility to exercise our right of first refusal for the purchase of the property and that option will be considered as the land sale process moves forward.”
So what does this all mean? To me, it says the park isn’t going anywhere. Cedar Fair has already spent too much to NOT buy the park land for themselves – and breaking a lease with over half a century still left on it will be tied up in court for years.
This isn’t the Kinzel-era, anymore. His obsession with garbage cans is not the top priority anymore. It’s claimed that current CEO Matt Ouimet (who comes form Disney) said after touring Great America for the first time, that it was, “…a diamond in the rough,” and, “Why did we treat this park so badly?”
Yes, the park hasn’t received that monster attraction in recent years – but neither has several other parks in the Cedar Fair chain. The investments that have come in the past few years over the LONG TERM are going to keep the park in far healthier shape fiscally than any one coaster would. And the key words there are “long term.”
Now, if the park DOESN’T buy the land underneigh it – that’s something to watch for. There’s still the lease to break AND the master plan, which would need a vote by the residents of Santa Clara in order to change…
To sum it up: Don’t write off Great America just yet – keep enjoying it.
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.
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:
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 the pregame destination for San Francisco 49ers fans this season
If you’re a California’s Great America fan – it’s time to start cheering. Literally and emphatically.
Yesterday, the park announced that in addition to becoming “the official amusement park of the San Francisco 49ers,” (as if there was any doubt) they will soon be opening the “Great America Pavilion,” an 18,000 sq. ft. multi-purpose facility that will be home to the Red Zone Rally pregame event for all 49ers home games, as well as other Levi’s® Stadium events.
“We’re very excited to be partnering with the 49ers on the Red Zone Rally pregame events,” said California’s Great America Vice President & General Manager Raul Rehnborg. “For 49ers fans and attendees of other Levi’s® Stadium events, Great America Pavilion will be the perfect venue to enjoy the game-day atmosphere, dine on delicious food offerings and easily access Levi’s® Stadium, which is located adjacent to the new facility”
“The Red Zone Rally will be a tremendous pregame destination for 49ers fans,” said 49ers Chief Operating Officer Al Guido.
During 49ers home contests, the Red Zone Rally at Great America Pavilion opens three hours prior to kickoff, features flat screen televisions throughout, San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush cheerleaders and alumni, an array of live entertainment, interactive activities and incredible dining options.
And when the stadium isn’t in use – the park now has a completely upgraded meeting and dining facility, that can be divided into three distinct areas or combined into one incredibly large venue. Oh, and the first event has already been held in the nearly-finished facility…Coaster Con XXXVII.
So yes, it’s not a new hyper coaster or ride – but it’s more important than that – it signals (quite clearly) a fundamental shift in the relationship between the San Francisco 49ers and Cedar Fair. Specifically, this announcement has far-reaching implications for the long-term future of the park – all positive in nature. Gone are the days of Cedar Fair Corporate (Dick Kinzel in particular) berating and indeed SUING the 49ers over a litany of issues.
It’s quite obvious that new Cedar Fair CEO, Matt Ouimet, has seen the San Francisco 49ers not as the enemy, but rather as a lucrative and positive business partner – and that can only bode well for a park that many (myself included) wrote off only seven years ago. (Lord knows Dick Kinzel tried to literally write it off according to my sources).So on the outside it may appear to just be an expansion of a picnic pavilion – but this announcement means the world to a park that’s on one hell of a kickoff return.
For more information on the Red Zone Rally, visit: www.49ers.com/tickets
For more information on Group Sales at the park, visit: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/group-sales
The Demon Song and Soundtrack
In honor of Halloween’s approach, what better way to theme your own, personal Haunt than by using the complete, original 1980 soundtrack from the line of the Demon at both Great America’s.
Yes, the “Demon Song” has been online for some time – but not the whole, nearly 30 minute queue recording, so enjoy!
A word of warning – this track is seriously corny!
Halloween Haunt 2013 at California’s Great America
In only a few, short years, Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America has gone from two “hand me down” mazes from Knott’s Berry Farm to easily the de facto Halloween event in Northern California.
Now with eight (8) mazes, three dedicated “scare zones” and enough fog machines and tinted lighting to make any rock concert jealous – the Haunt is now worthy of being up for comparison to the event that initially spawned it in Southern California.
The entertainment begins just as you enter the front gate to the park. Fire cannons (yes, you read that correctly) have been installed along the reflecting pool of Carousel Columbia. Never did I think I would feel the heat of flames on a relaxing ride like Columbia – then again, this IS Haunt. Consider walking into Carousel Plaza your “baptism by fire” to Haunt. The only thing that would make it better would be to run the carousel backwards.
To the right of the carousel, lies the first of two new mazes this year, “Dia de los Muertos.” As you can imagine, it’s a Latin themed maze, complete with Spanish-talking zombies and dizzying effects. The artwork alone makes the maze worth going into (and we STRONGLY recommend getting a pair of 3D glasses for $1.00 at the entrance). Those 3D glasses can also be used in the “CarnEVIL” maze in Orleans Place.
At the back of the park lies Zombie High, the other new maze for 2013. The building, which lies behind the Grizzly roller coaster, was built specifically for this maze, but I imagine it will double as a Haunt storage warehouse in the off-season. Considering all the material necessary to pull this event off now – it would make sense to expand the “backlot storage” the park currently has.
“Zombie High” is modeled after Shows Director, Clayton Lawrence’s old high school, down to the mascot. Of course, I’m guessing he didn’t have all the zombies and blood, there. See if you can catch all the inside jokes and macabre humor – just don’t upset the Principal.
The eight mazes and elaborate theming in the park would have been enough to placate most Halloween fans – but then California’s Great America did something celebrated by park fans and observers…they didn’t stop there.
Back in March, Park Spokesperson Roger Ross stressed that, “Cedar Fair is committed to California’s Great America. We’re replacing roofs…there’s fresh paint everywhere.” And you know what? He wasn’t kidding. That same spirit and drive to revive the park to it’s former glory and true potential is clearly evident in all aspects of the Haunt this year. Did you really need fire cannons at the front entrance? Not really – but who the hell cares – they’re freaking awesome!
In addition to the two new mazes and amazing theming throughout the park, Great America now offers a pre-scare meal, dubbed “Madame Maries Voodoo Chophouse.” The $22.99 add-on to your admission includes: early entry to the park, an all-you-can-eat, cajun-themed buffet, single “Fright Lane” entry to a maze of your choice and apparently very exclusive ride time on Gold Striker!
Now, most buffets at amusement parks are well – not worth writing home about. But, this meal included: fried catfish, creole, biscuits, prime rib(!) and soft drinks among other items. There’s even a chocolate fountain, complete with fruit and other dessert options. It shattered my notion of what I could eat an an amusement park outside of the Disneyland Resort. The park also offers a “Fright Feast” for $13.99, with more standard, picnic grove food options.
But the two new mazes, elaborately-themed buffet and exclusive ride time on Gold Striker was NOT the highlight of the night. That honor was reserved for the masterfully choreographed ice show, “Blades of Horror.”
Yes, you read right – an ICE show at a Halloween event. Stay with me, people…
A combination “Cirque” style show with an intriguing storyline, “Blades of Horror” is easily the best show I have seen at California’s Great America, going back to the KECO days of the late 1980’s.
The talent is largely local and according to many staff members, the show was largely driven by the performers simply wanting to keep performing. It has the look and feel of a large budget show you’d catch in any Las Vegas resort – and yet it’s right here, in the middle of Haunt. The acrobatics, aerials stunts and exhibitions of these actors is nothing short of spectacular. The grand finale alone is something that simply cannot be missed and may never be duplicated again.
There you have it – not one, but no less than five incredible reasons to visit California’s Great America and their burgeoning Halloween Haunt event.
As the days get closer to Halloween, it’s best to schedule your visit on either a Sunday or better still – visit as soon as possible. The crowds will only get larger as the holiday approaches, and so does the cost of admission.
Oh, and don’t show up to the park on Halloween – Haunt runs through October 27th.
Halloween Heads – it’s time to get out to California’s Great America – and get your scream on.
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Learn more about Haunt and it’s incredible entertainment and food options here: https://www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt
Lost Parks, Episode 3: “Manteca Waterslides”
I am proud today to release our third episode in the “Lost Parks of Northern California” series, focusing on the “famous” Manteca Waterslides!
Learn how the modern water slide was born just off of Highway 120 in Manteca, where you can still go to experience pieces of the park today and why people still call the chamber of commerce, asking about the slides…nine years after the park closed for good.
This was on all accounts – the most difficult video we have produced thus far. The technical aspects alone were enough to make both myself and my producer, Nicholas Laschkewitsch throw a fit. But, we persevered – and are proud to show you our work of the past few months.
“The Lost Parks of Northern California” is produced in association with the American Coaster Enthusiasts, Northern California region. Learn more about them at: www.acenorcal.org
Ride Review: California’s Great America – The Grizzly
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?
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!)
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.”
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 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.
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 *ACTUAL REVIEW* at California’s Great America
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.
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.
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