UA-20143982-1 California's Great America Trip Report 22 Sep 2013 - The Coaster Guy

California’s Great America Trip Report For 22 Sep 2013

By on 11/04/2013

I recently took a trip to California’s Great America, which I hadn’t been to since I was in high school over 25 years ago. What a great park! I honestly didn’t remember much about my last visit, so this was really felt like my first time there. If you haven’t been to this park before, and you find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by for a day.

My day started off with a smile before I even got to the park. As I was driving by their freeway sign, I couldn’t help but notice my company’s logo on it. I’ve worked for Symantec Corporation for over 15 years, so this was pretty cool to see:

California's Great America

I got to the park 30 minutes before opening, but there was nobody there! Other than preferred parking, I don’t think I could have gotten a closer spot than this:

California's Great America

The main entry is very attractive. I’m a huge fan of palm trees, so that was a bonus:

California's Great America

The level of detail on their tickets booths is amazing, even on the backside:

California's Great America

Before the main gate opened, we had to line up to go through security. And by security, I really mean a security guy with a handheld wand underneath an umbrella stand. No prison-grade metal detectors to pass through here. It was very quick and pleasant:

California's Great America

My visit was just a few days before their annual Haunt event started, so there were lots of Halloween decorations already up. I spotted this character waiting on the other side of the gate. I think it might be Snoopy, but it was hard to tell with the mask and cape:

California's Great America

Just about every theme park has their iconic photo opportunity, and California’s Great America is no exception. As soon as you enter the park, you get to see this:

California's Great America

I’m pretty sure the skeletons are some of the Haunt props, but I’m not positive. It’s possible that they’re the remains of line cutters, but there’s no way to tell for sure.

As you can see, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. The early morning clouds went away, exposing a stunning blue sky. The reflecting pond in front of the carousel looks great:

California's Great America

Known as the Carousel Columbia, this double-decker carousel is tied with its sister carousel, the Columbia Carousel at Six Flags Great America, as the tallest in the world. It was built by Chance Rides in 1976 at a cost of $1,500,000. It stands 100′ tall and can handle over 100 riders at a time.

While the front of the carousel stands proudly in the front of the park, greeting every visitor as they enter, there is a performance stage off the back of the carousel. There weren’t any performances to see here the day that I visited:

California's Great America

My first stop of the day was the park’s brand new wooden roller coaster, Gold Striker. I made sure that I was on the very first train of the day, and I liked it. Be sure to read my Gold Striker profile to learn more about this awesome roller coaster:

California's Great America

My next stop was the Flight Deck roller coaster. Originally known as Top Gun, this has long been one of the most popular rides in the park. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard and built in 1993, Flight Deck is an inverted steel coaster themed to an aircraft carrier:

California's Great America

I really liked the queue props. I felt like I was really on an aircraft carrier:

California's Great America

Flight Deck is 102′ tall, 2,260′ long, and reaches speeds up to 50 MPH with a maximum force of 4.5 G’s. There are three inversions – a vertical loop, a zero-G roll, and a corkscrew. The entire ride lasts 2:26 minutes. The train consists of seven cars, with four riders each, for a total of 28 riders per dispatch:

California's Great America

I really liked Flight Deck. I’m a big fan of the many Batman: The Ride roller coasters, like the one at my home park Six Flags Magic Mountain, but this one put a big smile on my face. I’m thinking that it was just because it’s a different layout than I’m used to, which made it fresh. I particularly liked the elements out over the water. I rode it three times in a row, only getting off long enough to change seats. I rode the front, middle, and back. I really prefer the front on inverted coasters so I can see what’s going on. After my third ride, they made me stop. The ride operator informed me that there was a policy only allowing three consecutive rides so that you don’t get sick. OK, that’s new to me.

I had just been on VooDoo at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom the day before, so when I walked by Firefall the first time, I didn’t give it much thought. However, all of a sudden the water erupted into a huge fireball and it caught my attention. There was no question about it, I immediately got in line to ride it and it was worth it! Very fun:

California's Great America

My next stop was Vortex, a stand-up Bolliger & Mabillard roller coaster:

California's Great America

Even though I’ve ridden The Riddler’s Revenge at my home park more times than I can remember, which still holds many world records for stand-up coasters, I was still looking forward to riding this because I really like stand-up roller coasters. My only hope was that it was a much smoother ride than Riddler’s Revenge, and it was:

California's Great America

Built in 1991, Vortex was only the second roller coaster ever designed by B&M. It stands 91′ tall, is 1,920 feet long, and reaches speeds up to 40 MPH. There are only two inversions and the entire ride only lasts 2:16 minutes.

As fate would have it, I ended up on an entire train all by myself. This happens to me all the time and I actually kind of like it. What I wasn’t expecting was for the ride to end up lasting closer to 20 minutes. Someone on the previous train didn’t handle it so well and there was a bit of a “protein spill” that the staff had to clean up. After sitting on the final brake run for a couple of minutes, I heard the ride ops order an evacuation of the station. They didn’t evac me, so I just sat there…baking in the hot sun. After about 10 minutes, and seeing that I was not going anywhere anytime soon as the ride ops were still trying to figure out how to clean it up, I slipped my camera out of my pocket for a quick selfie:

California's Great America

As I was sitting under a shade tree, posting updates, I saw Woodstock walk by:

California's Great America

I didn’t get to go inside, but it looks like they have a pretty nice theater:

California's Great America

Roller coaster number three was The Demon:

California's Great America

Original to the park in 1976, The Demon started life as Turn of the Century, one of the very first roller coasters to feature a double corkscrew. In 1980, two airtime hills were replaced with back-to-back vertical loops, and The Demon was born. Designed by Arrow Dynamics, this coaster stands 102′ tall, is 2.130′ long, and reached speeds up to 50 MPH.

Here is a train leaving the station, immediately dropping into one of the rock façade tunnels that were added as part of the transformation into The Demon:

California's Great America

As an “Arrow multi-looper,” this roller coaster is part of a dying breed. I rode it twice, back-to-back, just for nostalgia’s sake, but that was one too many. It’s a very rough coaster and started to give me a headache. Ride it once, just to experience it and say you’ve been on it, but I wouldn’t recommend more than that on any given day.

After taking a beating on The Demon, I was looking for something a lot smoother, and preferably with some relaxing airtime, to calm me down. Delirium was just the ticket! It’s basically a giant circle with 32 riders facing inward. When the ride starts, the circle where everyone is seated starts to swing back and forth on a giant pendulum. At the same time, the circle starts to rotate, so you’re spinning in a circle as the larger part of the ride swings back and forth. It’s very fun and there’s lots of great airtime on this ride:

California's Great America

It was getting close to lunch and I was hungry as I passed the Food Festival courtyard, but I was meeting a friend for lunch later and didn’t want to spoil my appetite:

California's Great America

It was time for a ride on The Grizzly, the park’s other wooden roller coaster:

California's Great America

Built in 1986, The Grizzly is a double out and back design. It stands 91′ tall, is 3,250′ long, and gets up to 55 MPH. There are two trains, each consisting of seven cars with a 2×2 design, allowing for up to 28 riders per dispatch:

California's Great America

I was not particularly thrilled with The Grizzly. As I was riding it, I kept waiting for it to do something to excite me, but it never did. Before I knew it, the ride was already over and we were pulling back into the station. I only rode it once.

Across the midway from the entrance to The Grizzly was the games area. I didn’t look too close, but it looked like the standard collection of carnival games you’d expect:

California's Great America

Next up on my ride list was Tiki Twirl, a Zamperla Disc’O Coaster that I was very excited about (despite the name of the model, this is a flat ride and not a roller coaster). I had never been on one of these and have always wanted to try one. In addition to that, it has a polynesian theme, which is another favorite thing of mine:

California's Great America

The way this works is that 40 riders take a seat facing outwards around the rim of a circular platform. When the ride starts, the platform starts to spin. At the same time, the entire platform starts to move back and forth along a 267′ piece of straight track with a small hill in the middle. When it reaches one end, it heads back the other direction:

California's Great America

I must admit that I really liked the Tiki Twirl! It’s one of the most fun flat rides that I’ve ever been on. In addition to the motion of the ride itself, there are also tiki statues along the side that may spit water on you, and a giant fireball erupting towards the end. I really wish my local park would get some new flat rides like this.

My sixth roller coaster of the day was Psycho Mouse. Many people poo-poo wild mouse coasters because there are so many of them and they are all basically the same, but I kind of like them. They are a great family coaster and perfect for young roller coaster enthusiasts in the making. Additionally, the continuous loading and launching of individual cars means that the lines typically move pretty fast:

California's Great America

Here’s a young family making their way through the circuit as the sun blazes overhead:

California's Great America

It was almost time to meet my friend for lunch, so I needed to make my way back to the front of the park. As luck would have it, I just happened to be next to the Eagle’s Flight sky bucket ride, with non-stop service back to the front of the park:

California's Great America

Original to the park in 1976, Eagle’s Flight is a Von Roll gondola ride that seats up to four people per bucket, moving them along a steel cable high in the air:

California's Great America

Along the way, you get a great views of the park, like this shot of the HMB Endeavor:

California's Great America

What looks like a giant flume ride off in the distance is actually part of their water park, Boomerang Bay. It wasn’t quite warm enough for me to visit the water park that day:

California's Great America

Another part of the water park, this is known as Jackaroo Landing:

California's Great America

This really is a fun and relaxing way to get from one side of the park to the other:

California's Great America

It was a great day for me to go. Even around 1:00 pm, I virtually had the place to myself:

California's Great America

This is the station I came into towards the front of the park. I’m not sure why, but the ride is called Delta Flyer at this end. I think that’s confusing. I think the ride should have the same name on both sides, but have a unique name for each station:

California's Great America

The friend I met for lunch was fellow ACE member Kris Rowberry. Kris runs the Great American Thrills web site and has recently started producing a great video series called The Lost Parks of Northern California with his partner in crime, Nicholas Laschkewitsch. They’ve done a wonderful job telling the stories of theme parks that no longer exist. You should check it out if you haven’t already. Here’s Kris and I in front of Gold Striker:

California's Great America

Photo courtesy of Robert Ingle

Kris and I had lunch at Maggie Brown’s Famous Fried Chicken. You get your food cafeteria style, with many types of chicken dishes to choose from, and then find a table to eat at. It was spacious, lots of available seating, and the food was good, too:

California's Great America

Kris talked me into going on Berzerker, which I had never even heard of before:

California's Great America

Berzerker is a classic Schwarzkopf Bayern Kurve, original to the park from 1976. There are 16 bobsled-like cars that can hold two people each, for a maximum of 32 riders. Unlike a Music Express ride, the chain of cars is not continuous around the entire circuit.

You start sitting in an upright position, but as the ride picks up speed, the cars start to tilt towards the center, making it more comfortable than a Music Express where gravity forces you to the outside of the ride

California's Great America

A quick shot of Kris and I before we each settle into our bobsleds for a spin:

California's Great America

We next went on Drop Tower: Scream Zone, a 224′ tall Intamin Giant Drop. There are six gondolas, with four seats each. All of the gondolas are slowly raised to the top of the tower before being dropped, free falling 207′ before safely coming to a stop:

California's Great America

I was telling Kris a story during our ride and he started laughing when we got back on the ground. When I asked him what was so funny, he said that I didn’t miss a beat while I was talking, even when we were dropped. I guess that after riding Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom so many times, a similar drop ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain but at 400′ tall, a short 224′ ride doesn’t quite have the same effect on me as it might have in the past.

Next up was roller coaster number seven, Woodstock Express. I had passed on this coaster earlier in the day because I thought it was a kiddie coaster that I was too big to ride. As it turns out, it kind of is a kiddie coaster, and I probably was too big to ride it, but we went on it anyway:

California's Great America

This coaster was actually a little bigger than I thought, as you can tell from the size of the lift hill in the background. It’s an Intamin family coaster that was added to the park in 1987, after being relocated from another park. I was just barely able to squeeze my legs into the front car far enough to close the lap bar. I should have done what the kid in the front row here did, and just left my legs hanging over the front:

California's Great America

Photographic proof that I did squeeze myself in and went on this roller coaster:

California's Great America

Kris introduced me to another classic flat ride that I had never heard of. It was a Schwarzkopf Calypso known simply as Centrifuge. There are five cars attached to five hubs on a large, angled platform. When the ride starts, the hubs are locked as the entire platform starts to spin. As the platform builds speed, the brakes on the five hubs are released and gravity takes over, spinning the cars on each hub uncontrollably. It felt a lot like a Scrambler on steroids. It was a lot of fun, but I recommend only one ride on it:

California's Great America

When I went by the HMB Endeavor the first time on Eagle’s Flight, I was thinking it was just another swinging pirate ship. Although I really do love swinging pirate ships, I wasn’t chomping at the bit to get on it with so many other great rides to experience first. When Kris pointed out that it was an Intamin Looping Starship, I got really excited to ride it:

California's Great America

Unlike a simple swinging pirate ship, a Looping Starship goes all the way around, leaving you hanging upside down a couple of times for what seems like an eternity. My local park used to have one of these, but it was removed long before I ever started going to the park so I never got to experience it, until now. If you get a chance, be sure to ride this:

California's Great America

One of the nice things about having someone familiar with the park giving you a private tour is that you get to see things that most people would probably miss. For example, here is a very tranquil and serene place to rest in the park that is off the beaten path:

California's Great America

Next up was The Orbit. Also original to the park in 1976, this is a Schwarzkopf Enterprise ride. This is another classic flat ride that my local park used to have, but was removed long before I started frequenting the park:

California's Great America

There are 21 individual gondolas that seat up to two people each in tandem. Once seated with the top closed, you are considered secure. The centrifugal force will pin you to your seat so no additional safety restraints are required. As the ride starts to spin, the centrifugal force pulls your gondola outwards and a hydraulic arm starts to push the entire assembly up until it is nearly vertical. One second you’re going up, then you’re dive bombing, over and over again. It was a very fun ride, but I don’t know that I’d want to ride it too many times, and definitely not consecutively:

California's Great America

I had already experienced several new rides that day, but we weren’t done yet. We took flight with Flying Eagle’s, which I think is considered a “flying scooter” ride. As the ride starts to spin and take flight, you can somewhat control your flight path by moving the giant wing on the front of your ride vehicle. It redirects the air flow, moving you left and right. I’ve been told that when you get really good, you can somehow “snap” the cables by rapidly moving from one side to the other. I didn’t feel the need to try that:

California's Great America

Being a former student pilot with a few hours of solo flight time, I enjoyed this ride:

California's Great America

From what I’ve read, The Consulate was originally planned to be a private retreat for the Marriott family when both Great America parks were being designed. However, they eventually became more of a private/exclusive club for VIPs, celebrities, and private events. Maybe one day I’ll find my way inside and report what I see:

California's Great America

Even though I had already ridden it a couple of times, Kris and I decided to ride Gold Striker together. I hadn’t actually been in the front row yet, so he sweet talked the ride op into letting us have the prime seats. It was worth it…best ride I had on it all day!

We ended the day with a relaxing ride in the Intamin Gyro 1200 observation tower known as Star Tower. The air conditioned cabin rotates as it ascends the tower, giving you great views of the park and surrounding areas along the way. It was built in 1979 and the Gold Striker roller coaster had the first drop built right around it. You need to walk through the Gold Striker structure to get to the Star Tower entrance:

California's Great America

This next photo gives a great perspective on how big the reflecting pond is in front of the carousel. You can also see the shadow of the Star Tower cabin ascending the tower. The giant white building under construction in the top-left corner is Levi’s Stadium, the soon to be new home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers:

California's Great America

I was lucky during this visit and was able to ride every roller coaster I could, and most of them multiple times. Taxi Jam was the only coaster I couldn’t get on because it truly is a kiddie coaster. I think adults are allowed if thy have a small child, but I think I would have been frowned upon had I asked somebody to borrow their kid so I could ride it:

California's Great America

I could not have asked for a better day in the park. The weather was beautiful, there were no crowds, all the rides were operational, and I got to meet and hang out with a fellow coaster enthusiast. Thank you, Kris!! I will not wait another 25 years to come back. I plan to go back to Northern California at least once a year to hit all the parks up there.

Let me here from you. If you’ve been to this park, what’s your favorite part? Have you been on Gold Striker yet? What did you think of it?

7 Comments

  1. Kris Rowberry

    11/04/2013 at 11:31 pm

    Kurt,

    It could not have been more of a pleasure to show you around my home park and give you the inside story on the many attractions that make it special! Let’s not wait another 25 years, though – deal? : )

  2. Ryan

    11/05/2013 at 2:57 am

    Nice report as usual.

    We went here during our USA trip back in May, was quite a bit busier then as they had only just opened for the regular season and the attendants were still training so weren’t very quick. I.e the wild mouse queue took us an hour to get through.
    That being said, it is a cool park.

    Gold striker wasn’t open to the public on the day we went, however we managed to do one of the free evening photo shoot sessions a few days later. That was very cool. I can honestly say its the best woodie I have been on, and is definitely in my top 10 coasters overall. It has just the right mix of speed and airtime and its really smooth.

    Will be interesting to see how it runs after a few years, hopefully they maintain it will (unlike ghostrider at knotts)

    • The Coaster Guy

      11/05/2013 at 7:27 am

      I hope they maintain it too, Ryan. As great as these modern woodies are, they can get really rough really fast if not taken care of.

  3. Erik

    11/05/2013 at 11:15 am

    Awesome!

  4. Rusty

    11/07/2013 at 5:37 pm

    I would love to you the show you my home park and explain the history, but we share the same home park. 🙁

  5. Pingback: Coaster Con 2014 Day 2 At California’s Great America - The Coaster Guy - The Coaster Guy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ChatClick here to chat!+