Dec 012008
 

Zaira and I attended opening weekend of the second annual Holiday In The Park celebration at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom on Saturday.  This event is really starting to come together and we had a wonderful time.  Arriving early we were able to get our photos taken with numerous Looney Tunes characters and holiday mascots before the park even officially opened.  The theme for this year’s event was Land, Sea and Snow (playing off the park’s three themed areas of Land, Sea and Sky), but even though the park definitely felt wintry and the holiday spirit was evident everywhere there was really not very much in the way of snow.

There was a small “pen” of snow behind the stage in the food court area which hosts the Frosty The Snowman show during Holiday In The Park.  And they did have the advertised snow sledding available, though it’s not really much of a hill.  To their credit, however, this was real snow (or at least ice)and not some kind of plastic, foam or other artificial snow-like substance.  And Zaira (who’s never had a chance to sled down a real snow hill) enjoyed all four of her sledding trips.

Z was excited about the snow, but I was most excited about the fact that their wooden roller coaster, Roar, would be open for the holidays this year, unlike the inaugural Holiday In The Park in 2007. If your favorite ride is near the animals, though then you’re out of luck. Everything past (and including) Boomerang and the Tasmanian Devil is closed for the winter. We wouldn’t want to disturb the critters in the cold, now would we?

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to sit and watch, however. Shouka (the killer whale), Merlin (the dolphin) and the sea lions all have special holiday shows for the animal lovers. There is also A Toy Box Christmas every hour on the Oasis Stage, Looney Tunes Xmas Karaoke in place of the “Talent Show”, a Scrooge puppet who heckles and interacts with the audience, Driver Daniel reading Thomas’ Christmas Delivery in Thomas Town, a holiday parade, and a five minute Frosty The Snowman show in the main food area.  We skipped the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony this year, having seen it with the world’s largest Christmas Tree last year, but sat in on Scrooge, Frosty and Xmas Karaoke.


Frosty The Snowman at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Looney Tunes Christmas Show at Discovery Kingdom

Zaira Sings ‘Deck The Halls’ with the Looney Tunes

We rode Medusa, Roar and Cobra (the latter just for the great holiday ride photo frame they had available), skipped Kong (Z hates it and there’s no ride photo), wandered the Christmas Tree Forest, Candy Cane Lane and Lollipop Lane, and “met” the new baby stingray at Sting Ray Bay.

Oct 052008
 

The first ever Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America, was actually quite enjoyable. Low expectations helped.

Our excitement for being the first to attend Halloween Haunt, was somewhat dwarfed by the fact that we were going to Knott’s Scary Farm the following night, and Miley Cyrus’ Sweet 16 right after that. But despite our numerous negative experiences with Cedar Fair throughout the year, I’ve gotta admit, they put on a pretty good Haunt.

We started out with the Boo-fet, which was not only cleverly themed, but damn good food as well. Bear in mind that we attended Media Night and the ‘regular’ buffet may well have different food.  The food being so good was a pretty much the only benefit, because the main reason I paid 13 bucks each for dinner, was to get into the Haunt early. It turns out this was irrelevant, because I’ve never seen the park so empty. Nearly everyone there was either media, or had a VIP pass.

Z and I wandered into the park about 5 min. before the gates opened and were the first to wander into the Witch Doctor’s Trail, giving us the full attention of the primitive tribe camped out there. Our hackles rose as we approached the next scare zone. Fog was pouring from the bridge, and we couldn’t even make out shapes within it. Moving closer together,we crept into the fog, only to discover the most nerve-racking scare zone of all: an empty one! Both our brains knew the monsters had not yet begun their shift, but our instincts kept us searching for hidden enemies.

Having survived the empty fog, we passed the creepily abandoned and cordoned off KidsVille. It was odd that with all these monsters about, Scooby Doo and his friends were tucked away in a dark corner. Next stop: Camp GonnaGetcha. After confirming the ride camera was working, (no special Halloween frame though) we braved the cobweb-strewn trail to the Camp. As we boarded our log, we asked the “counselor” if the ride had been fully themed. Her hems and hahs, gave us the answer despite her claiming ignorance As we floated through various campsites, Texas Chainsaw Massacre rejects continually charged our vessel. Ever the trooper, Z screamed “BOO!” at the lifthill ride op and we both giggled at the “AAAH!” she received in return,

At this point we realized we still didn’t know when the the shows weree going to be, but we decided to continue our loop around the park instead of tracing back through Voodoo-ville. The overall themeing of the park was not much more impressive then it had been we we got our sneak peek two weeks earlier. And I’m still not sure why the guardian of the CornStalkers maze was wearing blinking bunny ears. However, we were impressed that the maze itself runs all the way from Psycho Mouse to the opposite end of the midway. Speaking of the midway, employees were few and far between (as seems to be standard Cedar Fair operating procedure) and not a single Halloween critter was available to the victors.

We did manage to add a new Scooby (Tuxedo Scoob) to my collection though with a quick Roll-A-Ball game. Next to that stand, was a convict awaiting execution in Old Sparky. Unsure of his bonds, Z cautiously approached only to quickly assert, that he would certainly not be moving, It wasn’t until after our game, that the unseen warden must have thrown the switch as the convict started jerking spasmodically as Sparky sprung to life, and the convict’s ended.

Next stop: Invertigo. Z rode while I smoked, severe sinus pain keeping me off looping rides for the night. The covered walkway between Invertigo and The Demon was a fog shrouded scare zone that couldn’t seem to contain it’s monsters. The citizens, such as ourselves, were all avoiding the fog, so the monsters broke protocol and invaded the clear path.

Approaching the front of the park again, we came across a caricature stand and decided to finally fulfill our long delayed mission. Ramon, the artist, was clearly pleased to have not only the business, but also our company. Not only did he do a superb job, far exceeding my expectations, but was also quite the conversationalist. If you’re ever considering a caricature at Great America I can’t recommend Ramon too highly.

On our way to the Ed Alonzo show (Halloween edition) we got caught up in the CarnEvil scare zone. The Jack in The Box, marking it’s beginning, is the best piece of themeing on the park by far. We got to the show a few minutes late, but were ushered in the back door. Despite Ed Alonzo having made such huge fans of us over the Summer, this more adult themed version was mediocre at best.The only “wow” moment was when he produced Bob the Duck, from his straightjacket. Hypnotist Dave Hill’s show was to be our last stop of the evening. A few minutes into his opening patter he warns that audience members sometimes fall asleep while he is hypnotizing those on stage. I’m 90 percent sure this is supposed to be a joke, but having suffered through 35 minutes of his droning on, I now understand the reality. Z, always quick to volunteer, did seem to be genuinely under his spell though. So it was still a great experience for her despite ranking as the single most boring show I’ve ever witnessed in any amusement park.

Over all, if you already have a Gold or Platinum pass, or are a HUGE fan of haunted mazes, Halloween Haunt at California’s Great America should be rather enjoyable. But whether it’s worth the extra admission fee is still pretty debatable in my mind. I think I had a better time at last year’s Mutant Creek Hayride.  If you’re not a pass holder and still want to visit Halloween Haunt, be sure to stop by Burger King and get a $5 off coupon, or find a similar deal elsewhere, as $39.99 is way too much to pay for this event.

Apparently my hands were shaking even more than normal (fear perhaps?), so almost every picture I too kis incredibly blurry.  But if you’re brave enough you can see them all in my Halloween Haunt gallery.

Sep 262008
 

Great America will have it’s first ever Halloween Haunt this year, and since Cedar Fair now owns both Great America and Knott’s Berry Farm the same crew that runs the world’s first haunted amusement park attraction, Knott’s Scary Farm, will be designing and decorating Santa Clara County’s premiere theme park for the spooky season as well!

Wow, that reads a lot more like an ad then I expected :-\ Anywayz…

Z and I will be attending opening night of Halloween Haunt next Friday, October 3. But as you may have noticed I’m a bit anxious for the Halloween season to start, so we actually stopped by last Saturday to see what preparations had already been made.  Okay, so we actually stopped by because Z lost her season pass and we didn’t want to have to deal with getting a replacement during Halloween Haunt hours, but we did take a look around Celebration Plaza and snap a few pictures for y’all.  First the (apparently) obligatory rant…

We had other plans on Saturday and were just stopping by the park to get a replacement pass issued. Shouldn’t have been more than 15 minutes or so. But Cedar Fair still managed to screw with us. We approached the Guest Services window to pay for the replacement and caught grief from them because Z’s picture wasn’t on file with her pass info. As if this was somehow 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 error, not ours they issued the replacement receipt (another $15frmo me to them) and told us to head into the park to get it processed.  What they didn’t tell us was that the Season Pass processing center was closed and we actually needed to get it processed at one of the windows outside the park.  ::sigh:: Clearly, as the picture above shows Z did her get her “new” pass, but then their hearse ran her down!

Enough complaining. I’m just glad that our Platinum passes mean we don’t have to pay an extra ticket fee for Halloween Haunt. For those of you that don’t have Cedar Fair Gold or Platinum passes, tickets (to die for) will be $39.99 (or $34.99 if purchased in advance via the website).

There will be four Scare Zones at Halloween Haunt (areas of the park fully decorated and populated by various monsterly denizens): The Gauntlet, Dead Man’s Cove, Underworld Alley and Witch Doctor’s Trail; five mazes (haunted houses): CarnEvil, Werewolf Canyon, Corn Stalkers, Slaughterhouse and Club Blood (Paint The Town Red); three new shows: Dave Hill’s Haunted Hypnotics, ComedySportz Ghostly Improv, and Ed Alonzo’s Psycho Circus of Magic and Mayhem (which is a must-see on our list); and, best of all, one themed ride: Camp GonnaGetcha-

Welcome campers! Get ready to experience the great outdoors at this summer camp chock full of memorable activities. But once the sun goes down, this place takes on a dark, twisted side. The souls of campers from year’s past lurk deep within the shadows waiting to mutilate anything that comes within their path. With the nearby river as the only escape route, you must flee in a hollow log to escape their wrath!

As much as I love the graphical stylings of the print and advertising presentations for Halloween Haunt (which were clearly done by the KSF team), I can’t say I’m overly impressed with the park theming we saw.  While the skeletal beach scenes in Celebration plaza are cute, that’s not really what I want from Halloween Haunt.  In fact, I get the feeling the folx back in Ohio said something like: “Well, it’s California’s Great America, right?  So how ’bout beach themes?” Not exactly original thinking there, guys.

Similarly, the hay bales and black/orange bunting strewn around the park seems much too “family” oriented for an event that is rated PG-13 and advises against attendance by “wimps and children under the age of 13”. I do, however, like the spiders wrapping up the double-decker Columbia carousel (I mean the Scary-Go-Round) for a late night snack, and the way they carried that theming over the entire area with the cobwebs on the trees and light posts.

Another idea that’s migrated north from Knott’s Scary Farm is a pre-Haunt Buffet … er … Boofet, with early admission to the event. itself. No word on what will be served, but Great America’s Boofet will be held in the Picnic Pavilion by Redwood Amphitheater.  Unfortunately, guest costumes and masks are not permitted (strange, they didn’t say anything when we showed up as Scooby Doo and Velma to ride Vortex a couple years back) , but a great time should still be had by all and this is Cedar Fair’s last chance to redeem itself in my eyes.  Any bad experiences at Halloween Haunt and Great America won’t be seeing a single dime from me next year. So, walk, run, or hitch a ride like this guy did and get yourself to Halloween Haunt at California’s Greta America. If you’re there on opening night and happen to see Z and I feel free to stop us and say hello! We’ll be at the buffet by 6ish and heading to Camp GonnaGetcha so we can add the (hopefully Halloweenish) ride photo to our ever growing collection of amusement park and ride photos. After that, assuming we survive, it’s anybody’s guess!

More Halloween Haunt Preview Photos Here!

UPDATE 10-10-08 – Read my review of California’s Great America Halloween Haunt Media Night or check out Z’s Halloween Haunt Is Hypnotizing

Aug 062008
 

One of Z’s favorite rides at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reportedly started falling apart on Monday.  Apparently the entrance ramp/door to the Cyclone opened while in motion and banged into the interior ride a few times before the ride-op could shut it completely down.  Although news reports are full of quotes like [t]he door flew off and almost killed my daughter, and my personal favorite- You could tell it (the ride) was pretty much out of control and coming apart,” Hogan said. “The door itself came apart and went flying over to where the kids were. One boy dove out of the way just in time to avoid it crushing him or cutting him in half… It was a horrifying event“, there is, in fact, no evidence that a single part of the ride actually detached at any point.  Despite all of the fear-mongering going on, not a single person was seriously injured.  The 9 year old boy with a hurt leg and his mother declined further medical attention after being seen by paramedics on the scene.  In other words – no blood, no foul.

These rides are complicated devices designed with safety as a top priority.  Every ride at the Boardwalk is inspected every morning.  And, according to local news channel KTVU

Tuesday, a Cal-OSHA spokeswoman said that the cyclone ride has no history of trouble and it had passed inspection by state investigators at least three times this year: in January, February, and most recently on July 10th.

There has not been a single serious injury at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk within anyone’s memory.  The most comprehensive website devoted to collecting news stories of amusement park incidents (rideaccidents.com) doesn’t have a single entry related to the Boardwalk. And, once again, despite the sensational headlines and outlandish statements from frightened eyewitnesses there has not yet been a single piece of evidence released to indicate that any parts or pieces came off the ride and “flew” towards anyone.

Aug 032008
 

I first heard about RideMax software in January while researching Disneyland information prior to Z’s birthday trip there with her mother. My early impressions were both positive and exciting – software to schedule your day at the Disneyland Resort (Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park) in such a way to maximize the number of rides while minimizing the wait time. All based on historical data gathered over the last six years. Absolutely brilliant! However, I also knew that it wasn’t going to be useful to X on their trip, so I simply filed it away for when Z and I visited the “Happiest Place On Earth” ourselves.

That time came about a month ago as we neared our July 20th visit to Disneyland and California Adventure as the last stop on my California CoasterQuest.  Although the $14.95 price for a 90-day subscription seemed pretty reasonable, we needed every free cent for our trip so I did more research before actually plunking down my cash. Whenever I’m researching a new (to me) product or service it’s always the negative reviews that I seek out the most.  People who are happy with a product typically gloss over any problems it may have.  For RideMax, however, I couldn’t find a single negative review, no matter where I looked.  So, I visited RideMax.com and ordered the software.

It installed easily enough, but I was immediately struck by what would become my biggest problem with the software.  You can schedule your day at Disneyland or your day at Disney’s California Adventure, but not both, simultaneously.  Given the proximity of the two parks and the ubiquitous nature of “park hopping” passes, this makes absolutely zero sense to me.  We weren’t just visiting one park, but both and had “absolute must” rides in both.  But apparently we had to decide in advance what times we would be in each park instead of taking true advantage of the data at hand and hopping back and forth as necessary.

But this wasn’t actually the first problem I had with the program.  No, that was brought to my attention by the following blurb on the official website-

Planning a Sunday Visit?

We’re still just a small, family-owned business, and have made the personal decision not to gather wait time statistics on Sunday, so you will not be able to select a Sunday visit when using the RideMax software. For planning a Sunday visit, you should be able to select the previous Saturday when creating your itinerary. Just be sure to change your plan’s starting and ending times to correspond to the actual park hours if they differ from Saturday.

We apologize for this inconvenience!

Unfortunately, we were visiting on a Sunday.  Frankly, the “small, family-owned business” excuse just doesn’t hold water for me.  if you’re going to charge for a product that you advertise with lines like “[t]his schedule is tailored to the expected crowd patterns on the day of your visit, for the attractions you want to ride”, then it should actually be able to create a schedule based on the day I wish to visit!  All of the reviews I could find that mentioned this (serious) flaw in the program mentioned that they wound up ahead of schedule when using Saturday data for their Sunday visit.  Personally, I don’t see much difference between waiting in line for a ride and waiting in the park for my itinerary to get back on schedule – either way we’re waiting.

Speaking of unnecessary waiting, that brings me to my third problem.  Take a look at the screenshot to the left.  It’s the output when selecting Toy Story Mania in California Adventure. At first glance it seems like Toy Story Midway Mania should be the first stop on our visit to DCA as the wait will only be 25 minutes at that point. However, the mentioned tip reads as follows-

1. In order to board Toy Story Mania with minimal waiting, we recommend arriving at the front turnstiles no later than 9:10AM. When the turnstiles open at 9:30AM you should then be directed to a separate waiting area for this attraction, which should open with the rest of the park at 10:00AM. If you arrive late enough to find the line already too long for your liking, and you’re willing to be separated from the rest of your group, we recommend asking the Cast Member at the attraction entrance if you may use the “single rider” line. This may help reduce your wait considerably. For more details please press the “Tips & Hints” button in RideMax, and review the page titled “Toy Story: The Mania!”

In other words, RideMax recommends that you be in line nearly an hour before the park opens for the day.  But, somehow this isn’t counted as waiting time!  If you follow RideMax’s advice you’ll actually end up waiting (at least) 75 minutes for your first trip on Toy Story Mania, rather than the 49 minutes it lists for later in the day.  For our itinerary the wait time was listed as 15 minutes in the first slot (65 minutes total) and 40 minutes throughout the rest of the day.  How, exactly, is this saving us time?

Our final major problem with the RideMax program is really the reason I’ll be taking advantage of their 30-day guarantee and asking for a full refund.  After running about 50 different scenarios for the day of our visit I started to notice a pattern – the “big rides” had the exact same wait time throughout the afternoon and evening.  What are the odds of this being realistic?  And even if it is, then I certainly didn’t need to pay someone to find this out.  The first piece of advice given to anyone visiting an amusement park is to hit the E-ticket rides early in the day as the lines just get longer after lunch.  I’ve used California Screamin’ in the example screenshot at right, but it held true for the vast majority of major rides at both parks.

Those four problems were the reason this software gets a failing grade from me.  All of them can be resolved rather easily by the programmers if there’s a genuine will to do so.  While their at it they might also want to make the program far less clunky, add shows to the list of attractions one can select, allow multiple break times (to mimic shows and parades that aren’t included), permit schedules to be made without FastPasses, and write up a little documentation to guide people through the best use of the program.  Unfortunately, despite all the rave reviews on the web and my personal excitement over the program, RideMax was a complete waste of money.  Even though I hadn’t been to Disneyland in more than a decade and never been to California Adventure I was able to schedule our time much more efficiently on the fly at the park then any of the itineraries generated by RideMax.

More Disneyland stuff-


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