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Posts tagged “vacation

The Death of the Wooden Coaster at Six Flags

This past month has not been a good one if you’re a wooden roller coaster residing at a Six Flags park. The chain announced the closure of not one, but two additional woodies: the Riverside Cyclone at Six Flags New England and the legendary Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Colossus dominates the parking lot of Magic Mountain, but not for long.

Colossus dominates the parking lot of Magic Mountain, but not for long.

The Colossus rumor is the worst kept secret in the industry – but the Cyclone announcement was out of left field. In the past 5 years, five different wooden coasters will be either modified or removed from Six Flags parks. So why do I claim this as the “death” of the wooden coaster era there? You have to look at the pattern of other parks in the chain to understand it:

1.) Park builds wooden coaster.

2.) Due to unknown reasons (some insiders claim it’s to save money) maintenance is deferred, making the ride rougher.

3.) As a result, the coaster must be modified from original form to save on wear and tear, either via brakes or “topper track.”

4a.) The coaster is EITHER removed altogether due to lack of ridership, complaints or sheer amount of work needed to repair and restore it…

OR

4b.) The coaster is modified to a steel track, provided by Rocky Mountain Construction, making it a steel coaster with wooden structure. (a la the “New Texas Giant,” “Iron Rattler”)

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Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Now, to be fair – each of these rides (sans Medusa) were well beyond their prime. Of the five wooden coasters that have been converted to steel or are slated to close, three were heavily modified from their original form, making them shells of their former selves. (In the case of the Cyclone, the ride itself was just poor, rough and terribly paced to begin with.)

Hell, Colossus and it’s dual track hasn’t really raced for the past 20 years. Why? Usually only one track was open – you guessed it – to save on maintenance and wear. Anyone who’s ridden it this year will attest, the right side track hasn’t been used in months – and it shows.

The original drop of the Riverside Cyclone can be clearly seen below the modified drop.

The original drop of the Riverside Cyclone can be clearly seen below the modified drop.

Not many guests know, but most of the rides and attractions at Six Flags aren’t American built – they’re almost exclusively from Europe. The traditional wooden coaster is really America’s sole contribution to the amusement community worldwide (not forgetting the Log Flume).

So then, are we witnessing a generational shift in technology, much as our Great Grandparents saw the shift from side-friction coasters to safer (and more extreme) wooden upstop rides? Or are we witnessing a stopgap cost cutting measure? Tell me what you think in the comments section, below.

Personally, I’m torn – everyone loves the latest and greatest – but you have to remember and preserve the past, too. Wooden coasters are expensive to maintain, no doubt – but NOT maintaining them through their life ends up being more expensive in the long run.

My final thought – the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz is 90 years old and yet it’s smoother than any wooden coaster at any Six Flags park. And yet, all of those woodies are at least 50 years YOUNGER.

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Tsunami Soaker a Watery Blast of Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Why Buy New – When You Can Buy USED?

Fans of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk should recognize this coaster “under construction.”

Hurricane

Yep, it’s the former Hurricane, with a new coat of paint and in a MUCH LESS salty environment (Not to mention drier, too!)

When old roller coaster or thrill ride eventually gets retired (Woodies are the lone exception – as they’re constantly being replaced) many of them are actually sold to smaller, “mom and pop” parks where they’re appreciated for many years after their first installation.

There’s even websites, such as this one, which could be considered the “Craiglist” of the Coaster – where all sorts of new and used rides are bought, sold and traded between parks.

So unless your favorite ride was completely torn down…

Son of Beast

…there’s a good possibility that it was just “re-located.”

Now, the thrill of the chase is on!


The art of the on-ride photo

In a way, they’ve become more than just part of the amusement park experience – they have become attractions in their own right…

The on-ride photo – a way for parks to make more money off you – and a way to prove to Grandma and your friends that you really did ride “The Comet” after all…

The magnum opus of these cameras is surely mounted upon Disney’s Splash Mountain. Just about everyone has heard of “Flash Mountain” a place where  fans (and even Disney employees) would post photos of ladies showing off their “Zip a Dee Doo Dahs” during the climactic final plunge on the flume.

Sadly, showing your “Briar Patches,” – while hilarious – can get you kicked out of the park. And the photo it took? Deleted forever before anyone could see or print it.

Unfortunately, some of these stunts (as funny as they can be) are also quite dangerous. Loose objects in the past decade have contributed to significant injuries or even malfunctions of rides. Plus, parks’ aren’t huge fans of saddling more liability insurance because you and your dumb little buddies decided to sneak a RAZOR aboard the ride…

So, here now are some of the best (SAFE) on-ride photos from around the web:

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Why not get the whole family involved?

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Space Mountain never looked so…interesting?

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Ah yes – the singular “group” pose – always a classic!

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The eyes tell the story!

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Now if only they were on Ghostrider – this would be totally in theme with the ride!

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I really don’t know where to start with this one – it’s perfect in every way! DeNiro battles the Russians on his namesake, with press and fans behind them! (Even the ref has GLOVES on!)

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Don’t you wish your girlfriend was as awesome as her?

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No, this is NOT photoshopped – talk about timing!

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Well, the Beast IS the longest roller coaster in the US – over 30 years after it opened. Is it really that boring, though?

(I certainly don’t think so!)

Continuing with the “boring” theme – here’s my good pals the LaPutka’s doing their best on-ride pose via Splash Mountain!

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“Dad, whatever you do – please don’t embarrass me in front of my friends!”

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“Just catching up on the news while we plummet down to the Briar patch…”

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And finally – what better way to finish this post than with a Tebow Tower of Terror!


Behind the Scenes Hard Hat Tour

Sorry for the delays in getting things up recently – work does tend to take priority over this, sadly.

Nonethless, we have some exciting news!

Earlier this week, I was invited out to take a hard hat tour of the new Superman: Ultimate Flight roller coaster being completed at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. This one-of-a-kind LSM powered coaster (Linear Syncronous Motor, we’ll go into differences about technical stuff in a later post) will propel riders 15o feet in the air at speeds up to 63 m.p.h. through VERY tight clearances between the track and supports.

Did I mention that the only thing holding you in will be a LAP BAR?!? Don’t you just love how technology has progressed?

Here’s the video we made while we were out there – enjoy!

Superman: Ultimate Escape  – Behind the Scenes Hard Hat Tour


Well isn’t this interesting!

Sorry for the delay, folks – I’ve been diligently trying to manage the YouTube channel…

“Why?” do you ask yourselves…because one of the videos I created (and hosted) went VIRAL.

Sadly, so did all the comments I was getting, hence the need to stay off here for awhile. Turns out the video was found by one of Bert Kreisher’s fans, (former host of “Bert the Conqueror”) and they promptly linked to the video via the Joe Rogan message board, a comedy partner / friend of Kreisher’s. The video had a respectable 185 views on the Friday before Memorial Day. By the end of the long weekend, I had over 2,000! (and still counting!)

While a majority of the comments were, how can I say, juvenile and even vitriolic (Seriously, how many ways can you scream “fag” before it gets old. – One is the correct answer here) And the most ironic part, I’m not even gay, so jokes on you, assholes!

That being said, I’ll take the views and exposure any way I can get it, even if it means dealing with dumb asses; because as we all know, the internet gave voices to all of us – and the loudest voice was apparently given to all the morons, creeps and miscrients with a computer.

So, as promised, I give you all a treat, OUR FIRST AUTHORIZED POV session aboard V2: Vertical Velocity at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Enjoy and #letsride! (Literally, this time!)


Water Rides and “Acceptable Amounts of Water”

Ah yes, the summer heat will soon be upon us. But you won’t find me on many water rides…

Your host is no fan of “extreme water effects”

Why, you ask? Well, because there’s water involved!

An old acquaintance of mine used to judge water rides based on a single factor: whether or not they had an “acceptable amount of water” that you would be taking with you (via your clothes) through the exit.

I laughed at him at first, but then realized that he was absolutely correct. Water rides with purpose-built soaking devices are just, well – not entertaining to me! (We’re talking waterfalls etc., here, by the way)

If you have to wear a poncho (which you’ll rarely see outside of Japan and Islands of Adventure), then it’s already defeated the purpose.

Going on a log ride is about the challenge, the risk of getting wet. Getting soaked with certainty is certainly no fun! Where’s the surprise? How will I drive home still smelling of chlorine and making that creepy “squish” sound?!?

So enjoy then, our next segment – this time on the double life I live when it comes to water rides. Not fun to ride, but oh so much fun to interact with…


GAT Introduction Video!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you our first compilation video – welcome to the introduction to the concept of Great American Thrills!

Hope you enjoy it!


A Bit More Planning…

Alas, you’re one step closer to enjoying a day out in your local amusement or thrill park – but there’s still a bit more pre-planning that you must accomplish…exactly what are you going to bring to the park with you? If you’ve read my blog thus far, the answer shouldn’t surprise you…

It goes without saying, but if the weather report says the high temperature is expected to be above 70 degrees – pass on the pants.

Shorts will dry faster than pants on water rides and keep you comfortable throughout the day.option.

Too often, people misjudge the weather and end up passing out in line because of a heat stroke or exhaustion. The $3.50 bottles of water in the queue lines certainly don’t help the situation, either! So do yourself a favor, go with shorts when the weather’s over 70F.

If you absolutely have to, pack a jacket and pair of pants and leave them in the car! You can always go back to the car if you or anyonein your party gets too cold. There is no reason to lug all that, for lack of a better term – CRAP – around all day. It will inevitably tire you out much faster than a quick walk to the parking lot.

There’s also the option of a multiple-use day locker within the park boundaries, which is a good investment if the parking lot is a significant distance away from the entrance. An example of this would be Six Flags Discoery Kingdom, where even a brisk walk from your car to the entrance is fifteen minutes.

Nearly all parks today do not allow loose articles on their larger rides and attractions. The reasoning behind it is simple – it’s a major safety issue, as flying objects can seriously injure patrons or disrupt safe operation of the ride. In fact, on Knott’s Berry Farms’ “Jaguar!” roller coaster, a loose jacket jammed the wheels of the coaster, stalling it midway through the circuit.

That being said, if you absolutely have to bring loose items into the park, make sure they’re just the absolute bare necessities: your wallet, possibly a small camera, sunglasses and maybe a cell phone. That’s it.

Purses, backpacks and bags – although convenient – will only add to your wait times getting into the park, as security will be poking, prodding and rummaging through them, looking for unsafe items. It will also inevitably raise your stress levels as you attempt to keep track of all your stuff as you leave it on the ride platform while on the larger attractions.

Plus, there’s no reason to bring your iPod, iPad (seen it twice now) or any other iDevice unless you’re using it to keep track of others in your group. Even then, a tablet computer at a theme park makes for a tempting steal even for the casual thief.

Besides, those green pigs will still be there to knock down with those exploding birds…

So let’s say you still didn’t listen to my insider tips and tricks, and you STILL brought all your crap with you inside the park. To help with the glut of loose items you might still have despite our warnings, the best parks offer semi-secure bins or shelves to place your items in while riding. But beware! The parks’ are not responsible for anything lost, stolen or damaged. It’s a gamble every time you ride – whether or not you come back to find your items all still there.

Even worse, several park chains are now requiring that you place all your loose items in PAY PER USE lockers just before you ride. Personally, I feel like if that’s the case, why not just charge guests for each time they ride, rather than a flat admission at the front of the park. But, there’s a little trick to save you a few bucks each time you ride.

In order to “beat” these systems, and save you a handful of money that you shouldn’t have to have spent in the first place, I recommend that you wear cargo shorts, preferably with zippered or double buttoned pockets.

Some parks have closer lots than others, so take it into consideration when packing for the day.

As silly as it sounds, these pants can be a real money-saver at parks. They allow you to ride any attraction knowing your items are safe and secure, while at the same time not forcing you to put items in a $1.00 single use locker! On our last trip to Six Flags Great America, we saved nearly $10.00 in locker fees per person, saving our group nearly $50.00 for the day. (That’s more than the price of a single admission!)

Wearing sandals of any kind is also a big no-no, despite how hot the day might become. Sandals are easily lost on rides, extremely painful to walk several miles around a park in and expose you to all sorts of nasty things found on park pathways. A good pair of sneakers will keep you comfortable (and clean) all day.

In our next adventure…the big day finally arrives – now what?!?


Pre-planning, Part Deux

With this being the first weekend that most seasonal parks either begin advertising or actually open, it’s time to get beyond just the planning of how you’re going to pay for admission – it’s time to actually plan your trip.

These “General Tips” will help maximize your fun and enjoyment at ANY theme / amusement park, not just the ones located in my great State of California.

 THE No. 1 RULE – “Always Plan Ahead”

The Boy Scouts are famous for their motto: “Always be prepared.” It should also be you and your group’s motto when planning an amusement / theme park trip. Weather is the most crucial factor, but there are many other smaller factors that can add up quite quickly (and that most regular park guests overlook) but not I.

These are the questions you and your group should always, ALWAYS ask before heading out the door to the park:

What’s the weather supposed to be like?

Fowl weather days mean less crowds, but also less operating time.

Parks are under no pressure or obligation to give you a rain check and / or refund for bad weather. If the weather looks (and is predicted to be poor) don’t spend a whole day’s worth of admission, to only to get rained-out two hours later.

Some parks do offer rain checks, in the form of a free complimentary ticket (or comp as they’re called) given to you as you flee the park to find shelter in your car – but don’t bank on all of the parks you visit to do this.

Many parks (especially in the Midwest) now show the chance of bad weather right at the ticket booths. If the number is 50% or higher…be sure you know what you’re getting into. Remember that you’re wagering a coin flip that you’ll lose your admission over the weather…

There are many guides out there that will suggest that these “inclement” days are the best to go to parks, as crowds usually stay away, and lines tend to be shorter. For the most part, that’s true. However, if that rain or severe weather doesn’t clear up, the park is not going to re-open, no matter how loudly you and your family complain to Guest Services.

Plain and simple…I don’t take the chance and neither should you – do as a zeppelin airship does…if the weather has a hint of being bad, cancel!

 

Are there any park sponsored special events going on when we’re visiting?

Some parks allow for re-entry after weather or mechanical delays, but don't bank on it.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING will ruin your day at a theme park faster that driving up to the front entrance to find out you visited on a “Cheerleader Competition” day. Screaming, running, loud and obnoxious cheerleaders…waiting in line for hours in the hot sun…with you and your family. Ugh!

Fireworks, certain holidays and other special concerts / shows can also lead to larger crowds, so be aware of them when you’re visiting. Also, be aware there are religious and alternative lifestyle events held at parks too, which may or may not agree with your personal beliefs.

The moral of the story – always call or log on ahead of time! That being said, there is always the “lone exception” to this rule, so make sure to read all the specific park descriptions later on in this blog!

The park’s webpage is always a good, first source to visit in planning for your trip. These types of special events are usually found under the “Special Events” section or header.

If you’re not a fan of computers, you can always call the park information line. The switchboard operator should be more than happy to assist you, or direct you to the correct department.

With all the pre-planning completed, you’re still not quite finished, but you’re close! When the big day finally arrives, there are still a few more questions you’ll need to ask to make sure all your planning was worth it…

In my next post: “What should I wear and bring to the park?”


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The First Post

Welcome, everyone…to Great American Thrills!

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Vertical Velocity at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom on a particularly cold winter day...

This is the jumping off point, the start of what I hope to be a fun, rewarding experience for both readers, viewers and myself.

Great American Thrills is much more than a blog…it is the result of years of visiting parks, learning everything about them, and then never being able to “squeeze the veritable sponge of theme park information” that is my brain.of things to come. If you’ve stumbled upon my little section of cyberspace, welcome.

At least twice a week (sometimes more often when parks are open) you’ll find some nce tidbits and tips here to save you and your family money at your local theme park. All the while, you’ll also learn such things as: “Why can’t I wear my sunglasses on certain rides?” “Who invented the roller coaster?” and “If there was a Mr. Disney, was there a Mr. Flags?” (No, by the way).

So just sit, back, pull down your lap bars and safety harnesses – and enjoy the ride!

– KMR