Apr 112008

As a roller coaster junkie I was really looking forward to opening day of California’s Great America. Although not a new park (Great America has been in Santa Clara for more than 30 years now) March 16th was the first public operation day under the new name and under Cedar Fair’s watch. I’ve only been to one Cedar Fair park in the past (Cedar Point back in the 80s), but their reputation in the roller coaster community is huge. So I was, without a doubt, looking forward to breaking my 76 day roller coaster dry spell. Well, disastrous is only barely too tough a word to describe the day we had. Here’s the letter I sent to Cedar Fair upon returning home, early, from opening day-

To whom it may concern,

I just returned home from Opening Day at California’s Great America (yes, we left about 3 hours before closing). I’ve been visiting Great America for 32 years now, and have visited dozens of other amusement parks around the nation, but today was, without a doubt the absolute worst day I’ve ever spent at any amusement park.

The first problem actually occurred two weeks ago when I was told that despite the fact that I was purchasing four Adult season passes I couldn’t get the discounted price because two of them were the more expensive Platinum Passes. So, since I was giving you more money for two passes I I was forced to pay an additional $10 for each of the Gold Passes I purchased (ref: email from Ryan Davies on 03/03/08). I still bought the passes, of course, at a cost of $470.

Fast forward to this morning. We arrived at 9:00 and were the 6th car in line at the parking gate. My daughter walked up to the main gate (while I waited to park the car) as she was very excited to be the first person in the park. When the parking gates opened at 9:30 the parking attendant looked at my Platinum Pass e-ticket and informed me that parking would be $10. This despite the constant advertising on the web site, radio and tv ads, and even within the park itself informing everyone that parking is free with ANY season pass. When I pointed out that I had purchased a Platinum Season Pass I was told that it would still be $10 to park, but if I had a complaint I could ask for a refund in the park. (When my wife arrived later with her Gold Pass the same thing happened).

I arrived at the front gate about 9:40 and joined my daughter at one of the metal detectors. A few minutes before opening time several security guards came and took up positions in front of metal detectors, though ours was unmanned. I asked my daughter why she picked that particular line and she informed me that she hadn’t known where to go as she was the first person there so had asked an employee who pointed her in the “right” direction. I asked the guard at an adjoining metal detector where our guard was and was informed he’d be there shortly. Of course, when the gates opened we still had no guard and were thus trapped behind the little yellow barricade “tape” labeled “OPENING” in big green letters. After a minute or so another guard arrived and opened the “tape” at the metal detector next to us despite the fact there was no one in line there because it was labeled “CLOSED”. This of course created a mini-stampede for that line and we didn’t actually get to the turnstile for another 10 minutes or so, despite being the first people at the gate. But out problems were far from over. At the turnstile the girl couldn’t figure out how to scan our e-tickets. A supervisor came over to help, but it still didn’t work, so finally another supervisor had to come help us. Meanwhile dozens of people are streaming into the park around us, completely defeating the purpose of arriving early.

Speaking of arriving early, the whole reason were there first thing on Opening Day was because we wanted to be the first riders on your new, heavily hyped, Top Spin ride: FireFall. So after struggling for 15 minutes just to enter the park we rushed towards FireFall which, as you’re no doubt aware, is not remotely ready to be ridden as of yet. My daughter joked that it was fully themed – as Bob The Builder. I can easily forgive you not having the ride ready by opening day, but you’re advertising the park and the passes as though it is operating and there is no mention of it being unprepared on the website despite notifications about which shows are not yet available. A slow, dejected walk back over to Flight Deck was just another bitter path as it wasn’t working either. That pretty much summed up our day: none of the big rides we wanted to ride were working when we arrived there. We checked Grizzly twice and Flight Deck three times, but never got any satisfaction.

We did manage to ride Vortex before it broke down though this only led to more agravation at the photo booth afterwards. We collect ride photos and have samples from nearly 100 different rides from dozens of amusement parks, but this has got to be the worst quality picture I’ve ever seen: generic white picture frame, out of focus, and it looks like it was printed on an early 90’s dot matrix printer. You can see an untouched image of it at http://www.shareapic.net/content.php?id=6949044&owner=Aahz as apoint of reference here are two Vortex pics we had taken in 2006 (both of which came in brightly colored star frames) – http://www.shareapic.net/content.php?id=4297409&owner=Aahz and http://www.shareapic.net/content.php?id=4297410&owner=Aahz

Our next stop was Season Pass processing where we waited in line for 15 minutes before being told that they couldn’t process Platinum Passes. After another 15 minutes of wrangling with three different employees and explaining that we HAD to process them today according to your terms we were finally told the machine was fixed and ushered inside. There we were again told they couldn’t be done and sent to a supervisor who kept changing her story back anfd forth for another 10 minutes or so. In all they finally got processed (as far as I know) and it only took a half dozen employees to manage it.

Throughout the entire day (with three distinct exceptions: Tyler in the Games area, the couple escorting Cosmo and Wanda near Kidzville around 2:00 and the couple leading Karaoke at 3:00) the employees we encountered were curt and indifferent at best and surly or incompetent at worst. It took three people to ring up two sodas in the candy shop, two different carts couldn’t even sell us things because the employee couldn’t open the register and didn’t have a key, they couldn’t work the credit card machine at the Vortex photo booth, and on and on. I lost track of the names of the employees to complain about after the first dozen encounters. Still, we somehow managed to spend over $200 on top of the $20 you essentially stole from us in parking fees and, of course, the $470 in season passes. Meaning I spent over $700 to have a horrible experience for my family to remember.

I can easily forgive a few mistakes from new employees on opening day, but Great America has been in operation for more than 30 years and Cedar Fair has been running amusement parks just as long, so there’s no excuse for the haphazard way the park was run today. I wish I could have some kind words for y’all but when a 9 year old and a 12 year old (ride junkies both) start asking if they can go home and watch TV half-way through the day, then something is definitely wrong with the amusement park.



That email was sent over three weeks ago and I have still received no response. Not only that, but if the message was read by anyone they certainly didn’t take my concerns too seriously as the link to the picture has yet to be clicked on (as of this writing). The kind folx at Cedar Fair haven’t even bothered to post the souvenir photos their employees took to the website so that I could give them even more of my money. Six Flags manages to get that done with hours of your visit, but Cedar Fair hasn’t managed it with nearly a month of time.

Since I’ve already bought all of these season passes we’ll certainly visit again this year and I am still looking forward to their Halloween Haunt event (it’s being created by the same team that does Knott’s Scary Farm). However, they certainly aren’t getting much of my money for next year despite promises of Northern California’s first new wooden roller coaster in years. Yes, I’m trapped by my addiction and will surely visit the park to ride the new coaster in 2009, but unless the Halloween event really rocks my world I highly doubt they’ll be getting season pass, parking or souvenir revenue out of me.

You can see all 69 pictures of our day at California’s Great America by clicking this link.


  3 Responses to “California’s Great America Has Not-So-Great Opening”

  1. […] coaster when California’s Great America had its official opening day for 2008. Which made Cedar Fair’s horrible performance all the more irritating.  of course, that didn’t stop us from shelling out some cash for […]

  2. […] entire family was having a pretty rough opening day at California’s Great America and we were only halfway through the park when we spotted Psycho Mouse. Since I’d ridden it […]

  3. It was day one, i’m pretty sure it was hecktic for everybody there. did you go back later? if you didn’t go back again to see if things had changed then i can’t feel sorry for you, but if you did and things were still messed up then i appologize. things seem to be great now, i work at great america and i try to do my best and make sure that guests feel welcome. Don’t let that one opening day ruin it all for you

  4. We’ve been back about a half-dozen times over the summer. Z still wanted to ride Firefall (though when she did the fire effects didn’t work), and we visited the water park during the heat wave. Kept my wallet in my pocket as much as possible, though.

    Haven’t received decent service yet 🙁

    Where do you work, Daniel? Maybe we’ll say high next time we’re there.

  5. Your post makes one think! Great article. Thanks for allowing me to comment!

  6. […] our fault. The only thing we did wrong was assume that Cedar Fair would have their act together on opening day. Big mistake!  As you may recall, they were all screwed up that day.  Once we clarified that it was their […]

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