Day four of my trip started with a relaxed breakfast at a hotel just outside of San Francisco. I was in a great mood, feeling properly refreshed after a good meal, ten hours of unbroken sleep, and an hour-long video call with my partner back home in Ireland. I was ready to enjoy a few hours at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, a park that I'd had a good time at on all three of my previous visits.
Unfortunately it quickly became apparent that I was facing into a second consecutiveSix Flags Day. Four of the park’s ten roller coasters were listed as unavailable, including Boomerang, Flash, Joker, and Sidewinder Safari – and though Joker had started cycling empty trains by the time I'd had enough the other three remained silent. It wasn’t just coasters, too; the park app indicated that Congo Queen, Monsoon Falls, Nairobi’s Look Out Balloons, Safari Jeep Tours, Seaside Railway, White Water Safari, and Zoe’s Tree House were all in an advanced state of non-functionality. While none of these were on my personal shopping list, it was still an embarrassingly poor showing for the July 4th holiday weekend.
I’ve since learned from a local that the park typically has a “slow start” in the mornings and that I might have seen better operations if I'd visited in the afternoon. This may well be true, but I'd argue it to be taurine excrement; I firmly believe that all rides should be open for the duration of park operating days unless explicitly advertised as unavailable both on the park website and in marketing materials. Maintenance issues will arise occasionally of course, but they should be rare; Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is closed mid-week from September to May which gives more than enough time for major works to be scheduled with minimal guest impact.
Once the park opened I made my way to the north-western corner, where I found three operators standing in front of the blocked-off entrance to Sidewinder Safari, a Zamperla Twister Coaster added to the roster in 2022. One of them assured me that their ride could open later in the day, and remained absolutely convinced of this even after I pointed out that there were no cars on track (or even in sight). I subsequently discovered no ticks of the ride on Coaster-Count.com between June 23rd and July 26th, suggesting a closure that was measured in weeks rather than hours. It's probably just as well that I decided against waiting in the area.
I made my way across the park in search of sommething that was actually open, and eventually ended up at Batman the Ride (#3073). This ride name is used for nine operating coasters within the Six Flags chain. Six are inverted coasters manufactured by B&M, andthesearetoptierattractions that have stood the test of time. One is a Vekoma SLC, perhaps best described as not a top tier attraction. The final two are S&S Free Spins, a ride style whose tiering is a matter of some debate. Discovery Kingdom has a “110” model that as of this writing is the most recent example to be fabricated, if not installed; that accolade goes to John Wick: Open Contract, which finally opened in 2022 after several years in storage in the UAE desert.
There was a short wait today, but I ended up bypassing most of it after the operators called for a single rider to come forward, allowing me to tick off my eighth free spin with minimal fuss. While I doubt I’ll ever be a huge fan of the genre it’s fair to say that as time goes on I find them less obnoxious than I used to. I felt no need to ride more than once, but I disembarked after my lap feeling invigorated rather than abused, which Is a definite improvement over my experience on Arashi.
I had less than zero interest in renewing my acquaintance with Kong, but I couldn’t leave without a consolation lap on Medusa. Today the world’s third floorless coaster was running two trains with minimal stacking. A third was visible in the maintenance shed, albeit with several missing restraints; my guess is that it has become a parts donor to keep the rest of the fleet serviceable. The ride didn’t look particularly good today – the track was in serious need of paint and the train was filthy – but fortunately there was no impact to the ride quality, which was every bit as good as I remembered.
California's Great America
3rd July 2023
California’s Great America was a must-do park for me this year, mainly because it is now officially on borrowed time. The formal death warrant was signed in June 2022 when parent company Cedar Fair sold off the land, and while execution will not happen immediately the timeframe has been given as “within 11 years”. Some of the rides may find new homes, though the majority are likely to go to the great midway in the sky. The coasters in particular would seem endangered; by 2033 seven of nine will be more than thirty years old, limiting the business case for relocation. (On a closely related note, Jeri Ryan will be 65 that year. How's that for a ridiculous crossover.)
RailBlazer (#3074) is the second of two prototype Raptor coasters manufactured by Rocky Mountain Construction in 2018. Its southern clone has recently gone under the knife for work that includes “station, track, structure, (and) control equipment” and new trains have also promised in 2024 – yet as of this typing nothing has been announced for RailBlazer. Earlier this year I read a plausible theory suggesting that both rides needed work to keep them operational in the medium term, and that CGA management were unwilling to invest given the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over the park. Whether or not that story was true, I figured I should get some laps in while I could.
The ride is fast and furious, yet almost completely smooth. The train negotiates some of the elements at a pace that looks way too fast from ground level, but the forces somehow manage to remain right on the limit of what can be considered comfortable. At one point mid course I found my vision blurring slightly, and though I’m not getting any younger there remain only a handful of coasters I’ve ridden that have been forceful enough to have that effect on me. The overall experience was top notch; I completed two laps (rows 3 and 5) and would have done more had I not wanted to explore the rest of the park. (I’d also like to throw in some kudos for the operating crew today; their focus and sense of urgency allowed them to keep two trains moving without stacking.)
I disembarked and immediately spotted a classic attraction that I’d been unaware of prior to my trip. Berserker is one of just two remaining Bayern Kurves in America. The ride, first built in 1976, was overhauled last year using parts from the now-defunct example at Kennywood Park. I took the back seat for my cycle, which was everything I expected it to be; it’s great to see a piece of history like this preserved for the next generation to enjoy. (Those who really appreciate the genre should head to Europe, where four different examples operate on the fair circuit, two in France and two in Germany. Don’t wait too long though; they won't be around forever.)
Next up was Patriot, a floorless conversion of the old Vortex stand-up coaster. Nineteen years ago I described the original ride as "awful” and “extremely uncomfortable”, making me a little nervous about the reimagined version, but I can report that the experience of the new trains was fine. There were a few bumps en route, but they were small fry indeed compared to the unmitigated horror that is Firebird. Once again there were two trains in use, and the operators were doing a great job keeping them moving efficiently.
I followed this up with Flight Deck, the second oldest B&M invert and a top tier ride that is very obviously customised for the land available at the park. The second of three inversions rolls directly over the front of the park’s Theatre Royale, and the third, over a lake, ends up below the elevation of the brake run. The comfort level today was spot on; it was hard to believe that the ride is already into its fourth decade of operation. I'd love to see it find a new home after the park closes, but I can't say I expect it to; it was good to get one last lap in before the hammer falls.
The park is home to a 1976 Von Roll Gondola, known variously as Delta Flyer and Eagle’s Flight depending on which end of it you board. I’d half expected to be turned away from this as a single rider, as has become common on Ferris wheels in the US due to rider misbehaviour and insurance requirements – but can report that there were no problems today, allowing me to capture a series of overhead photos of the park for posterity.
I disembarked in front of Tiki Twirl, a Zamperla Disk’O Coaster and the only attraction in the entire park that was out of service today. Signage at the entrance indicated that a major overhaul was underway ahead of a planned reopening later in the summer. (It’s worth pausing here for some emphasis; a park with a death warrant signed took the time to do a major overhaul on one of their more popular rides and had a clearly posted explanation for why the ride was unavailable. The difference in approach when comparedagainst the two Californian Six Flags parks could not have been more pronounced.)
I decided on a whim to wait nearly 45 minutes for a ride on Psycho Mouse, one of three remaining examples of an Arrow-built Mad Mouse, and my first encounter with the genre since my visit to the late and much lamented Myrtle Beach Pavilion way back in July 2006. Arrow’s version of the classic ride has a support structure that looks like it could survive a nuclear strike, and it tracks very well indeed. A trim brake towards the end of the switchbacks reduced the overall aggression level over what it might have been but the experience was still great. One day I’d love to do one of these with the trims deactivated entirely, even if it’ll likely leave me bruised.
Though it wasn’t part of my plan I decided to do a lap on Grizzly, the older of the park’s two wood coasters. The ride was running well, and it remains a good crowd pleaser even if the layout doesn’t do all that much. Enthusiasts would do far better to spend their time at Gold Striker, which was absolutely phenomenal today, delivering from start to end with no potholes at all. I enjoyed two excellent laps; it’ll be an enormous loss when this ride meets its date with the wrecking ball.
The final ride for me today was Star Tower, an Intamin-built observation tower with a PA spiel describing it as the second tallest ride in the park (just behind the imaginatively named Drop Tower). I was able to get a few good photographs here, though (as usual) they’d have required less digital manipulation if the windows had been clean!
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