Gilroy Gardens, formerly Bonfante Gardens, opened in 2001 as California's only horticulture theme park. Developed over a twenty-five year period by Michael and Claudia Bonfante, the park initially struggled due to low guest numbers. Paramount Parks (now Cedar Fair) was brought in to provide expertise in 2003, and their assistance allowed the park to prosper. Management invested two million dollars into a new water play area this year, indicating that business is now blooming.
The park is geared primarily at families with young children. The desire to educate is never far from sight, with lots of signs describing the various plants on display in exhaustive detail. There are also four dedicated Learning Sheds that explore many different nature-related subjects in depth, including geology, seismic activity, the weather, bugs, and a magnificent collection of Circus Trees. For everyone else, a selection of twenty different amusement rides can be found scattered within the lush greenery, including two roller coasters. We decided to start our visit with Timber Twister (#2046), a Zierer Medium Tivoli that felt much the same as every other ride of this type, even down to the tiny pop of airtime on the first drop.
I'd been particularly looking forward to riding Quicksilver Express (#2047), the only known installation of a Morgan mine train. I'd somehow never gotten round to looking at a POV, and thus was somewhat nonplussed by the rather boring section after the first lift hill, a fifteen second wander from side to side taken at a relatively slow place. Things picked up significantly after a second lift hill, however, with the train negotiating several tight and forceful turns as well as an airtime hill that felt particularly powerful from the back of the train. The track work was fairly smooth, apart from the two lift hills, which were engaged with a thump akin to a fully loaded eighteen wheeler hitting a brick wall.
The Panoramic Wheel was a bit of a disappointment, largely because it had no view to speak of; both sides were entirely obscured by trees. It was also a bit of a shock to find the ride fitted with individual seat belts with a pin release mechanism that the operator had to unlock individually. Paranoia seemed to have been taken to another level on the Skytrail monorail which had the same seat belts as well as individual lap bars. We didn't get to ride it due to a protein spillage on board the train, but I doubt we missed much. Guest safety is a legitimate and noble goal, but is it really necessary to have two independent restraint systems on a monorail?
Several of the flat rides within the park are off the shelf designs augmented with elaborate custom theming. We skipped both the Garlic Twirl break dance and the Banana Split pirate ship, but decided to try the Mushroom Swing wave swinger which, at full speed, came very close to the surrounding trees. We also decided to try the Backroads Garden car ride, which has two independent tracks, one featuring 1920s vehicles, the other featuring 1950s. Both tracks follow the same basic route, albeit in different directions, allowing riders to wave at each other as they pass. Each track also features a tunnel with a sound effect at the end, which on our track was of a police car siren and an officer yelling for us to pull over. With no brake (or, for that matter, accelerator) available we decided feigning deafness as our best way forward.
The last ride of the morning was on Rainbow Garden, a slow boat ride (with seat belts) in about one foot of water.