Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Superman Sticks and Gold is Struck

Northern California has had some excitement over the last couple days, lets take a look into the headlines.

©Six Flags
Initially I refrained from posting this story because of the lack of details being reported, but now I feel the full story has emerged enough to provide a full picture.  Six Flags Discovery Kingdom's newest coaster, SUPERMAN Ultimate Flight, made news when it suffered an odd issue on Sunday causing the ride to a stop 150ft in the air.  Riders were stranded in an upright position at the highest point of the ride for nearly 2 hours.  The Vallejo Fire Department was called in to assist with a possible evacuation while maintenance crew used cranes to reach the passengers, providing them water and sunscreen, and to inspect the train.  After the ride was checked out, the coaster was moved in reverse down the tower and successfully unloaded in the station.

The ride has been shut down since the incident in order for the park to perform a full inspection to determine the cause.  Sources say that absolutely no mechanical issues were found and the ride appeared to be functioning as designed.  What seems to have happen was that the conditions were perfect an the ride merely lost it's momentum at the peak of the ride and balanced itself at the top.   

Though this is not very common, it's not unheard of.   Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point has found itself balanced at the top of its tower on multiple occasions throughout it's existence.  Generally those shut downs only require a mechanic to go up and push the ride over the top and then the ride resumes operation.   Because this was the first time it occurred on Superman, the park was extra careful not to put the ride in motion again before they were sure that it was safe to do so.

Next up,  California's Great America's Facebook page is now teasing their new upcoming wooden roller coaster.   The page's cover photo (seen below) features a gold miner with the words "Striking New Records" and gives the date of August 29th, which is likely the announcement date.   

© California's Great America
The banner also says "Au13." Au is the elemental symbol for gold and 13 is assumed to refer to the year the ride opens.   These clues seem to lead to the newly trademarked "Gold Striker" as the name for this new coaster.  The question now is what record will the ride be breaking?  My guess is they are keeping it local and touting this as the tallest, fastest and longest wooden coaster in Northern California.

Over at Theme Park Review, a photo was posted to show that the ride recently started vertical construction.  This will be the first major coaster installation at California's Great America since Stealth opened in 2000.

Get Ready for 385 Feet at Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England has gained approval from local authorities to build what should be the world's tallest Star Flyer ride for the park's 2013 season.

While it is a shame to have plans spoiled by having to make them public, this plan is so exciting that without full details I think this might just add buzz to the park's future announcement.  The news report about the approval says the ride will be named "Star Flyer" but I'm sure a more creative name will be used.  Then again, 385 feet is quite a bit closer to the stars than most rides get you!

The ride will take up residence in the Northern end of the park, in the location of the soon-to-be former Sky Coaster ride, named Dare Devil Dive.

To make the approval even sweeter, the zoning board granted permission for the park to make the ride up to 410 feet tall without having to revisit them.  This is to ensure the park can claim the world record should another park building something larger.

Rumor is that another Six Flags park will receive a similar ride, but will it be as tall, forcing the two towers to share the record?  From an advertising perspective I guess it doesn't matter, since each could still be billed as the tallest.

Cedar Point's Disaster Transport Fades to Black

© WKYC.com
The final Disaster Transport mission has been launched, and I'd say it was a successful one.  The event to raise funds for Give Kids the World at Cedar Point, where riders could raise money to get in their last rides, brought in over $16,000 when all was said and done.

The final riders, some of the 30 million who took a trip into space and awkwardly landed in Alaska, seemed pretty overjoyed to have been some of the last, a few of which were down right emotional at the coaster's closing.

WKYC out of Ohio has a great story up, complete with video and photos, from the final Dispatch event.

Officials at Cedar Point are quoted as saying that the ride will start to come down as soon as August 6th, which makes sense if the park needs the space to build a new coaster.  The ride will be recycled, so don't look for Disaster Transport to open at any other parks.  They currently offer 15 different roller coasters at the point, but it looks like their sweet 16 (for a second time) will take place next year.

For those who couldn't attend, you can at least take one last trip on Disaster Transport!

Monday, July 30, 2012

What's Gold Striker? A New Cedar Fair Trademark.

Bit of a slow news day, so I decided to do a quick search of trademarks to see what's up, and lucky me, seems Cedar Fair just trademarked Gold Striker as the name of an amusement park ride, among other merchandise related items.

So what is the Gold Striker?  Beats me - does that sound like the name of a B&M Wing Coaster?  Or perhaps something more wooden with a western theme at a Western park?  Or something we have no clue about?

What do you guys think?

Road Trip! Funtown Splashtown U.S.A.

The second leg of our Road Trip took across the wilderness of Vermont and New Hampshire to Maine, where Funtown Splashtown U.S.A. awaited us.

We're here!  Funtown Splashtown U.S.A.

Funtown Splashtown is located in Saco, Maine, adjacent to Route 1 and not very far from the beach.  I don't associate Maine with the beach, although I know darn well that it has quite a stretch of them, but when you arrive at the park you can almost smell that the water is near.

The park has its origins back in 1967 when two individual operators of typical roadside amusements joined forces and created Funtown U.S.A.  As the years went by more rides were added, and bigger ones at that.  Eventually the two operators split once again, with one buying the other out, only to have the former owner open a similar park with water slides right next door.

This view of Excalibur greets guests in the parking lot.
Well fast forward some more and the water park was then purchased as well by the operator of Funtown, and then Splashtown was added to the property.  That may have been a bit complicated to follow, but what matters is that in the end Funtown Splashtown became what it is today - a thriving family owned amusement and water park combination.

And no doubt a big part of why we visited was for Excalibur, the park's large wooden roller coaster.

Not the first drop, the second, actually.
Excalibur opened in 1998 and in my opinion really moved Funtown Splashtown up a notch on the great amusement park fame scale.  It was built by Custom Coasters International (now defunct), and starts with a 100 foot tall lift hill into the trees.  The ride is located across a small creek from the park proper, so guests get to cross a decorated bridge, complete with themed music, to get to the ride's station, also nicely themed as a castle.

Floating hair and hands up, that's how to ride!
A reader tweeted at me while I was visiting that the ride has just finished up a multi-year re-tracking project, and I can believe it.  I was a bit worried that the ride might run a little rough, but it was actually quite nice.  Several bits of air-time, good speed, and overall a comfortable experience.  The aging of rides like Excalibur is so dependent on the park's penchant for proper maintenance, so hats off to Funtown for this one.

Up and over, guests head to the rides.
But how about the rest of the park?  Funtown features a nice selection of rides, all tucked between the trees on winding pathways.  I will admit that it is not the easiest park to navigate, but once you get the lay of the land it becomes easier.  The section with many bridges links to many attractions, like the Thunder Bolt and Flying Trapeze above.  There are older parts of the park that remind me of many family parks I've visited, which is always nice.  There's definitely no corporate feel anywhere at Funtown.

Taking a voyage on the Sea Dragon.
The park appears to put a lot of care into its appearance, taking time to plant plenty of beautiful flower beds around the property.  Here the park's Sea Dragon, which has its own water feature beneath it, swinging high above the sword in the stone - which leads the way to Excalibur.  Little stuff like this always impresses me at parks.

I have a soft spot for Log Flumes, too.
Another treat of this road trip was that almost all of the parks have their own Log Flume rides, many of which are older and now sadly a part of a dying breed.  At Funtown Splashtown their ride is named Thunder Falls and is advertised as the longest and tallest in New England.  The ride splashes through the trees through some interesting rapids before the big climb, naturally followed by a plunge into the pool below.

Thankfully the visitors at the geysers left us alone when we floated by!

The park's family oriented roller coaster.
Funtown's other coaster is a Maurer Sohne Wild Mouse named... you guessed it, Wild Mouse!  The ride's yellow and purple paint scheme makes it hard to miss, even though it is tucked in the back corner of the park. 

The ride was actually moved to Funtown from Jolly Roger Amusement Park in Maryland, where it opened in 2009.  It replaced Funtown's Galaxy coaster, which had operated there since 1978.

Great name for bumper cars!
There were a lot of flat rides at Funtown as well, like for instance the bumper cars, called Sock It To Em here.  Love the name!  Another really popular ride is the Astrosphere, an indoor scrambler that has both thumping music and a lightshow.  There's plenty of kiddie rides, too, a wide variety in fact.  There's a kiddie log flume, a Frog Hopper, and some real classic older rides.  You known it is an older ride when it is named "Trucks" or "Kiddie Cars!"

The park's Antique Car Ride lets kids drive their way through a big part of the park, under bridges and past some larger rides, past even more well maintained landscaping.

2012 is the year of the dragon.  Really! It is.
Before Excalibur opened Funtown made its name known by adding a really tall ride, the 220 foot Dragon's Descent.  The ride has the massive dragon sculpture pictured above that guests walk under to get to the queue, sure to make an impression on riders.  The S&S Tower ride slowly takes the carriage up to the very top, only to suddenly blast them downward at faster than gravity speeds.

New for 2012 - six new "thrill slides."
Splashtown is portioned off from the dry park, which allows visitors to pick whether they want admission to one or both.  In a world of combination theme parks, it was sort of nice to have the choice!

But on the hot Summer day we visited it seemed that many folks made the choice for the Splashtown side of things, judging from the lines snaking down the towers.  The park has some older slides that date back quite a while, but also some modern ones like a gigantic Tornado funnel slide, and a Mammoth family slide.

This year saw the addition of a new slide tower named Mt. Olympus.  Hey, isn't there an entire water park named that?

My. Olympus standing tall over Splashtown.
Mt. Olympus has Triton's Twist, the green slide, Poseidon's Plunge, the blue one, and Amphitrite's Challenge, which is four racing mat slides all packing into one structure.  The tower is high capacity, and I have a feeling with the crowds descending on Splashtown that was something they needed.  More capacity is a sign of more crowds, so good for the park!

We didn't spend as much time as a family could while at the park, considering all that is offered to guests.  I'm quite pleased that we stopped by to check the place out - it was out of the way but worth the effort.

Stay tuned for our next stop!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weekly Rewind 7.28.12

Not really good news coming out of Rye Playland, so far this Summer season attendance and revenues are both down again from last year.  The park is still being evaluated for possible changes to its future use.

Universal Studios Hollywood has announced three big name mazes for this year's Halloween Horror Nights.  Alice Cooper Goes to Hell 3-D, Silent Hill (based on the video game), and the Walking Dead (based on the AMC tv show) will scare guests this fall.

Still no official word on the projects going on at Universal Studios Florida, but this update gives us some new views of the work.  Looks like they're digging downward at the non-Potter site, giving more credibility to the Transformers rumor.

Hawaiian Falls Roanoke, Texas, has opened SplashTacular's new Double BowlsEye slide, which sends two sets of riders down at the same time into the same bowl finale.  Looks wild!  Check out a video of the slide here.

Tomorrow is the last day for everyone to take a spin on Disaster Transport at Cedar Point before the ride closes forever.  There's still time to donate to one of the riders who are raising money for Give Kids the World, as of right now an astonishing $16,000 has already been pledged!

Also in the great state of Ohio, the Beach Water Park has announced that they will reopen next season as The Beach at Adventure Landing.  A new operator will take over, add new slides, kiddie area, and revamp the wave pool. 

Six Flags New Orleans has momentarily come back to life to be used as a set for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a new movie due out next Summer.  It's weird to see the park look so alive (although creepy still) but know that it's deader than dead.

There's a lot of numbers in this story covering Six Flags' 2nd quarter earnings, but what can be taken away is that the company did well, really well, actually, during the period.  Looks like the new management is continuing to show how capable they are.

I missed this one a while back, but Waldameer Park has announced plans to bring a Musik Express to the park for the 2013 season, and possibly a large family restaurant in 2014.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Breaking News - Kings Island to Remove Son of Beast

At last the fate of Son of Beast has been decided, below is a direct quote posted on Kings Island facebook page this afternoon

"After a lengthy evaluation of all alternatives, the decision has been made to remove the Son of Beast roller coaster to make room for future park expansion. The dismantling of the ride, which last operated in 2009, will begin later this summer."

Son of Beast was announced on May 11, 1999, ironically at the 20th Anniversary party for the Beast. A big black box, covered in chains was place along a pathway as part of the hype. The box would occasionally growl and shake, scaring unsuspecting guests.

Designed by Werner Stengal and built by Roller Coaster Corporation of America, this record breaking coaster was to be the center piece of the Action Zone area, but from the start Sonny was a problem child.

The were many construction issues, delays, changes and cost cutting measures made by Paramount. And, this lead to disputes and eventually lawsuits.

The ride originally operated with three trains designed by Premier Rides. Each one consisted of six cars for a total capacity of thirty-six. The trains were shortened to five cars before the 2006 season. And then, after the rides first major incident, the trains were replaced with lighter weight models and the 118 foot steel loop was removed before the ride reopened for the 2007 season. While the loop was not the direct cause of the 2006 problems, removing it did allow the lighter trains to be used.

Another incident in 2009, Son of Beast was closed indefinitely And, even though there was this massive 7032 foot long structure with a 218 foot tall lift hill sitting in the middle of Action Zone, Kings Island tried it's best to ignore the White Elephant in the park. All references of Son of Beast were removed from the park's website, map, and gift shops. And, big black box that marked Sonny entrance was removed.

Son of Beast has been the topic of many discussions and rumors over the past three years. Would the park continue to pour more money into the $40 million or would they tear it down? Now, that the decision has been made, we can only wonder what will replace Son of Beast.

Before, the loopectomy

and after.

Back in 1999 we spent at lot of time visiting Kings Island and watching Son of Beast being built. We wanted so badly for it to be a huge success, unfortunately that was not meant to be. But, at least now the park can move on and use the space Sonny occupies for a new thrilling attraction.

Road Trip! - New York's The Great Escape

It was just a couple years back that a road trip took me to some of New England's larger amusement and theme parks, and while I loved all those rides and new experiences, there was still plenty more that the area had to offer.

Taking that into consideration, this year's pilgrimage once again took us North, only this time the goal was to visit the smaller parks that the region has to offer.

Welcome to the Great Escape!
Our first stop was at Lake George, NY, for the Great Escape, a part of the Six Flags family of theme parks.  Originally known as Storytown USA, the Great Escape had some very modest beginnings in 1954 as a 5 acre park that offered static displays of everyone's favorite nursery rhymes and children's tales.

It was the dream of Charles Wood to open a park that told the cherished stories of his childhood, and it is said that his idea for Storytown was kicked off by a visit to Knott's Berry Farm.

The park's roots are still visible with displays such as these.
As time passed more displays were added to Storytown, and once New York's Freedomland closed Mr. Wood saw an opportunity to snatch up a few mechanical rides for a good price.  Expansions then continued in that direction and over several decades of development more attractions, and even a water park, were added to the grounds.

With Storytown having much more to offer than just displays, the park switched gears and re-branded themselves as The Great Escape, a name that better reflected all that was available to guests.

Sasquatch will blast you up or down - your choice.
Big expansions at the Great Escape started shortly after Premier Parks, which eventually turned into Six Flags, purchased the park in 1996.  Aggressive expansion was something that Premier Parks favored, and quite a few modern thrill rides were added in the following years.

Interestingly, many of the Great Escape's rides also had previous lives in other parks.  Take for example Sasquatch, seen above.  The S&S Power combination tower stands 200 feet tall, one side blasts riders up, the other downward.  The attraction once lived in Louisiana at Six Flags New Orleans, but was moved North after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.

Frontwards and backwards thrills on the Boomerang
Boomerang: Coast to Coaster is actually the park's only large coaster that was built specifically for the Great Escape, and not moved there.  It was one of the first additions that Premier Parks made, and was placed near the front of the park in the Storytown section.  Riders are lifted up 115 feet and let go to travel through three inversions at 47 miles per hour, then the course is taken again - backwards.

The Storytown area also is still home to many older rides, such as a Cinderella meet and greet, the Grand Carousel, the Storytown Train, and Thunder Alley - a 50's style car ride.

The Steamin' Demon greets visitors at the entrance.
When Mr. Wood was looking to really pump up the thrills at the Great Escape he made the decision to purchase the Ragin' Cajun from Pontchartrain Beach, also located in Louisiana, when it closed.  The coaster was renamed Steamin' Demon and placed high up at the front of the park, making it impossible to ignore to vehicles passing on the roadway below.

The coaster turns riders upside down three times, once in a vertical loop and twice in a corkscrew.  Designed by Arrow Dynamics, it is one of their Loop & Corkscrew designs, several of which are still operating around the world.  The Screamin' Demon currently has a bright orange, yellow, and blue color scheme that helps attract even more attention.

Kidzopolis' bright colors draw families in.
While many of the park's original displays can still be found at the Great Escape, there are also two large, modern, kiddie areas at the park.  Seen above is Kidzopolis, a brightly colored area that features three rides and other activities for families.

Located in the park's former Jungleland section is Timbertown, a large shady area that has eight different children's rides.  The area is themed very nicely and has a wonderful rustic feel, complete with a large sprayground area that's super popular with kids.

Beat the heat at Splashwater Kingdom.
It was a very hot day when we visited the Great Escape, so their full water park, named Splashwater Kingdom, was very busy.  The water park has expanded over time to include a selection of both relaxing and thrilling attractions, and there's something for everyone in the mix.

The photo above looks out over the lower section of Splashwater Kingdom, with Paul Bunyan's Bucket Brigade in the foreground.  The structure features a giant tipping bucket, several slides, and lots of ways to keep guests busy.

You can also catch a glimpse of the park's wave pool, named Lumberjack Splash, in the background.  The 25,000 square foot pool features waves that the whole family can enjoy, neither too tame or wild.

Plenty of slides await visitors.
The water park has seen other expansions in recent years, giving visitors some modern slides to choose from.  Above is the large Tornado funnel slide with Noah's Sprayground in front of it, an area where kids can splash around.  While not pictured above, the park also offers the Mega Wedgie, a slide that takes riders down into a twisting bowl at the end.

New for 2012 is Alpine Freefalls.
The new attraction for the 2012 season at the Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom is a tower of slides named Alpine Freefalls.  The slide is located next to the wave pool, tucked in neatly between the turnaround of the Comet roller coaster.

There's actually two different experiences contained within the Alpine Freefalls.  One slide, named the Cliffhanger, features a Skybox launch area, where the floor literally drops out from underneath riders.  They then plummet down a steep slide into a long run out area.

Bright colors are used on the Alpine Freefalls.
The other set of slides on the tower are known as the Twisted Racers.  They consist of four separate slides that riders head down on a mat.  After all four riders start, the slides twist around one another until they even out and then it's a race to the finish line.  The Alpine Freefalls had visitors lining up while we were in the park and look to be quite a successful addition.

The Comet!
While in Splashwater Kingdom it is impossible to ignore the giant wooden roller coaster that roars by, stretching much of the length of the park.  That's the Comet, and it is probably the largest and most exciting coaster that the Great Escape offers.

In 1994 Mr. Wood decided to make a huge addition to the park, and to do so he purchased the Comet coaster from Crystal Beach in Ontario, Canada, when it closed.  Moving a wooden roller coaster isn't an easy task, so to help the transition the ride was rebuilt at the Great Escape using a steel support structure.

The Comet races over many small hills during its course.
Soon the ride was thrilling visitors in its new home, a tradition that's still continuing today.  The ride was originally designed by the legendary Herbert Schmeck, and features a 95 foot tall lift hill.  As the two trains, one red and one blue, speed down the drop riders encounter plenty of air time over the ride's double out-and-back layout.

The Comet reminded me of Knoebel's Phoenix, another Schmeck design, and that's a good thing!  The coaster was running smooth and giving plenty of nice pops of air when we visited, a true testament to great design.  The Comet is one ride not to miss if you visit the Great Escape.

A wintry ride on a summer day!
Another unique attraction at the Great Escape is the Alpine Bobsled roller coaster.  Themed as a wild trip down a bobsled run, it was added by Premier Parks in 1998 after they purchased it from Six Flags.  The ride had previously run at two different Six Flags parks, originally Great Adventure and then Great America.

The ride's entrance is seen above, and most of the course is obscured by tall trees that have grown in around the track.  Well I should say trough, as the individual cars run freely through the trough during the ride.

Racing down the mountain on Alpine Bobsled.
The ride is one of only a handful still operating of its kind in the world.  Not a lot of bobsled style coasters were built, and no new ones have gone up in over a decade.  The Alpine Bobsled at the Great Escape features four different cars, each themed to its own country.  Above we see the Canada car heading down one of the curving drops.

Up the sixty four foot lift hill.
Unfortunately for me the above photo was the closest I got to actually riding the Alpine Bobsled!  The slightly threatening sky in the background of this photo turned out to be rather threatening after all, and just before my turn the skies opened up into a full downpour.  Due to our tight schedule I had to abandon my plan to ride.  Darn!

Welcome to the wild west!
A bit more of the history of the park.  When Mr. Wood was looking to expand Storytown USA after its first few seasons, he needed something that would attract a more masculine demographic, one that stood as the opposite of nursery rhymes.  His solution was to add a Western themed land, today known as Ghost Town.  Originally a train took guests through a deserted wild west town, and while that is no longer running Ghost Town is home to several of the park's bigger rides.

The theming of the area is quite nice, and features plenty of Western themed facades on the buildings.  It is home to the Desperado Plunge, a large log flume ride that heads out past the now deserted wild west town the train ran through.

From outside the ride not much can be seen.
If you are a long time reader of NewsPlusNotes then you might know that I'm quite a fan of the original Arrow minetrain coasters, mostly for their distinct quirkiness.  That said, I was quite pleased to get to ride Canyon Blaster at the Great Escape, which is a classic minetrain that was saved from destruction when it was moved to the park.

Love the theming on the ride!
Canyon Blaster is a popular family ride at the park - it is not too wild for kids to enjoy, but gives enough of a thrill that they come off feeling as though they have experienced a 'big' coaster.

Perched on the edge of Ghost Town, the ride has some nice theming surrounding the course, and the trees that were originally planted have grown in wonderfully, further obscuring much of the ride.

The double helix is an exciting finale to the coaster.
Canyon Blaster isn't too tall, at 56 feet, or too long, at 2,000 feet of track, but it is a lot of fun.  The ride originally operated at Opryland Theme Park, where it first opened in 1972.  When that park closed the ride sat in a field for five years, finally being resurrected in 2003 as Canyon Blaster.  With a little TLC and some nice red paint, the coaster is once again giving kids that chance at a 'big' ride, and I for one couldn't be happier about it.

The Great Escape's skyline.
The Great Escape features plenty of other rides that I didn't have space to cover in this story, plus live entertainment, and shopping in a nicely themed village setting that that rainstorm nixed me taking photos of.

If you're ever headed near the Great Escape it is a great place to take your family, with a current mix of attractions that offers a little of something for everyone.  I will be interested to watch and see which direction the new Six Flags management takes the park in future seasons, too.

Our road trip didn't stop at the Great Escape, so watch for our next park soon!