SeaWorld San Diego

7th August 2018

When I first travelled to SeaWorld San Diego back in 2005 the Skyride and Sky Tower required an additional payment on top of the admission fee. The nickel-and-diming had ceased by the time of my second visit in 2014, but I'm sorry to report that this positive change was short-lived; as of this year both rides require an additional payment once again. The park has also implemented a number of other revenue-raising initiatives, including vending machines for instant front-of-line access at queue entrances and a fee for those wanting to take a photograph in front of the park entrance sign. One would have expected management to do everything in their power to give their guests a positive experience in the aftermath of Blackfish, but there was little sign of that today.

Sky Tower

We scheduled in a half day visit primarily to ride Electric Eel (#2487), a three month old Premier Rides Sky Rocket II with a three-car train allowing eighteen passengers per cycle. The operators on duty today were doing an excellent job keeping the queue moving, aided by a visual countdown in the station which allocated one minute and twenty seconds for the unload/load cycle. This interval, coupled with a forty-five second ride time, enabled an hourly throughput of around five hundred guests per hour, which is not bad at all for a coaster of this type.

I've written before about previous installations of this design in glowing terms, and was expecting to give this one an equally positive review. Unfortunately the experience was profoundly disappointing due to the presence of wholly unnecessary "comfort collars" that have been retrofitted onto perfectly adequate lap bars. These are ungainly, unsightly, unwieldy, unhelpful and generally unpleasant, and the use of the word comfort to describe them feels like a cruel joke by a marketing manager somewhere. A thirty second long recorded announcement in the station repeats the oxymoronic description four times, perhaps in the hope that people will start to believe such abject dishonesty when it is repeated often enough. Boarding the train requires flexibility not traditionally associated with the average coaster enthusiast, particularly the somewhat larger species indigenous to North America, and though we managed the required gymnastics the process was not enjoyable.

Our first ride was in the back seat, which should have been absolutely fantastic due to the longer train. Unfortunately the hideous restraint came into contact with my neck a total of five times during the course, and while three of these impacts were minor, two were actively painful, greatly limiting the rerideability of what should have been a top notch thrill ride. We went for a second lap in the front which was less obnoxious, though the cramped feeling brought on by the collars did nothing for the overall experience. Two laps were enough for us; though the queue was less than fifteen minutes we didn't feel any need to subject ourselves to further abuse.

Instead we made our way back to Journey to Atlantis, but found it closed due to a technical problem. Rather than hang around we relocated to Manta. The wait was posted at fifteen minutes, and on that basis we decided to hold an extra two cycles for a front seat. We were next in line to ride when the staff decided to halt operations for a period in order to transfer one of the trains off the track, a completely asinine decision given that there was a steady queue. Our lap when it came was enjoyable without being particularly memorable, and we decided against waiting for a second round.

 

Knott's Berry Farm

7th August 2018

It took quite a bit longer than I'd have predicted to cover the ninety-eight miles between SeaWorld San Diego and Knott's Berry Farm, and it would have been even worse had we not been able to take advantage of a whole series of carpool lanes along I-5. By the time we arrived there was around three and a half hours before we had to leave for an evening concert in nearby Garden Grove, and though that was better than nothing it did mean we had to prioritise. We missed out on several coasters that we'd have liked to renew our acquaintance with, not least Montezooma's Revenge, Silver Bullet, and Xcelerator; with luck all three will still be around the next time we're in the area.

HangTime

HangTime (#2488) is technically the eighth Infinity Coaster from German manufacturer Gerstlauer, though the model line is sufficiently diverse that this fact is essentially meaningless. Previous installations have featured all sorts of gimmicks, including reverse launches and a backwards vertical drop, and this model continues the tradition with a two stage holding brake at the apex. The sixteen seat train is first brought to a halt while facing downwards at a sixty degree angle. After a few seconds it rolls forward a little, only to stop a second time right at the edge of a beyond vertical drop. The release feels like it is trimmed, though only an enthusiast would notice that as the train is released into a well-paced mix of inversions. The highlight of the course is an airtime hill right before the Cobra Roll, though the entire layout works well.

Regular readers of my diaries will know that I've been less than complimentary about the comfort level of previous Infinity Coasters, and given that I'm delighted to say that HangTime represents a significant upgrade over previous members of the family. There are one or two slightly suspect track transitions, but the operative word here is slightly; the bumps are only really noticeable in the back of the train. For the most practical purposes the experience is a smooth one, if not quite to the level of Messrs B&M or Herr Schwarzkopf, and as such guests can enjoy the experience without having to ride defensively. The ride is an excellent replacement for the venerable Boomerang, which was last seen being refurbished at a yard in the Netherlands.

With the new coaster complete we headed for Voyage to the Iron Reef, a target shooting dark ride from Triotech that premiered in May 2015. The back story tells of a battle against underwater creatures that are attempting to harvest steel from the iconic attractions at the park, a novel if somewhat strange concept; what a sea monster would want with scrap metal is anyone's guess. The hardware, comprising six hundred feet of track and eleven video screens, has been installed in the building that in the distant past featured both the Kingdom of the Dinosaurs and Knott's Beary Tales attractions. The experience can be thought of as a computer game with moving seats; the vehicles pause in front of each screen in turn where guests shoot at animated enemies to the accompaniment of an atmospheric soundtrack. The ride is decent enough, though it lacks staying power; once was sufficient for me, and I imagine that would be true for the majority of park visitors.

We decided that we were in a dark ride mood, and duly made our way to the Calico Mine Ride, a park tradition dating from 1960. The original experience was overhauled in 2014 with over fifty new animatronics and special effects, though it remains much as it would have been when it first opened. Guests board a train with face to face seating, so everyone looks over their shoulder and/or their neighbour to see the spectacular scenery and theming. Flash photography is not allowed inside the mine, though the operator did say that you could take all the pictures you wanted without it so we did just that. (As an aside, the ride has a chain lift at the mid point, which might drive certain coaster counters slightly crazy.)

Our fourth and last stop was at GhostRider. The park's wood coaster was closed from September 2015 until June 2016 for major refurbishment by Great Coasters International, during which the track was rebuilt, portions of the layout were reprofiled, and the trains were replaced. We decided to wait for a front seat, and from that location the result was marvelous, delivering a proper wood coaster experience without even the vaguest hint of jarring. We would have liked to have gone back for a second ride in the back just to see what the new hardware was truly capable of, but sadly there wasn't time to do that while still making it to our concert.

GhostRider