by Danny Miller
As the prospector says prior to departing the station, “You’re about to experience the rush of striking gold!” Are you ever! California’s Great America had been stagnant for a long time. They hadn’t had a major attraction added in quite some time, and the most notable coaster activity had been ride removals, even under Paramount, like the transplant of rides like Stealth (now Nighthawk at Carowinds), and Invertigo (now Stinger at Dorney Park). By all means, when Gold Striker was announced, it had to be good, or else the park may never recover.
Gold Striker actually dates back to the mid-2000s. When Cedar Fair first acquired the park (along with the other Paramount parks), Great America was expected to get the third of the three Great Coasters International rides to go to the chain in a deal with the wooden coaster maker. After Renegade at Valleyfair opened in 2007, and Prowler opened at Worlds of Fun in 2009, it seemed that Great America was the logical spot for the last coaster. After all, the park lacked both the quantity and quality of wooden coasters that other parks already had. But wait, the uncertainty of whether or not Cedar Fair would keep the park or not, and the slight speculation that the San Francisco 49ers new football stadium could close the park, Cedar Fair balked and didn’t invest in a new ride.
Fast forward to 2013, the issues were resolved, and the stadium and park no co-exist with Cedar Fair still in possession of the park. The plans that had been public for a long time could finally proceed, and thankfully they did. Although I didn’t get to ride it in 2013, if I could jump in a time machine, my vote for “Best New Ride” of 2013 would easily go to Gold Striker. It is flat-out a better coaster than Outlaw Run in just about every way except that it doesn’t really break new ground. It doesn’t have to though, as it is just an all-around fun coaster. Its length is surprisingly (in a good way) long for a coaster of moderate size, and the forces are all over the charts (again, in a good way).
The ride starts with a quick little jaunt through some tight turns and a little bit of air even before the lift. Immediately you can tell this is going to be a wild ride. At the top of the drop, the already deafening chain is magnified by the tunnel designed to reduce the sound heard by nearby buildings. What results, however, is a more thrilling drop, with head-choppers all the way down, especially in the back row where you are jettisoned from your seat at the apex. The tunnels and side-walls along the entire course follow this theme as well, heightening the sense of speed and danger from start to finish.
In the blink of an eye, you’re nearly on your side, wrapping around the Star Tower. You quickly cut through the queue area and hit an airtime hill beside the station, with wood cross-beams seemingly inches from your head above. After this, it is several instances of GCI’s mastery of combining vertical and lateral forces. As you bank sharply, you also crest a hill, giving you ejector air and lateral forces together, and there are probably at least half a dozen instances of this throughout the course. A few spots connect these twisted turnarounds with small speed hills that violently (once again in a good way) throw you out of your seat and to the side.
Despite its length, and a ride time of two and a half minutes, Gold Striker speeds into the brake run. This is a credit to how perfectly GCI is able to slowly make elements smaller as the ride goes on, offsetting the speed that diminishes by keeping the sense of speed and force the same. This is truly what few coasters do well. Some seem to hit the brakes too early, while other fizzle out and tend to struggle to finish the course. Gold Striker finishes the course strong; it is a long ride that avoids slow elements at the end. Every element of the ride is thrilling, the ending just as much so as the beginning. From the Star Tower, one can really appreciate the tangled mess of timber that makes up this incredible coaster.
If nothing else, California’s Great America finally has a signature attraction that everyone can get excited about. Flight Deck is still a phenomenal inverted coaster, especially with the sharp new red and silver paint job. The 1993 product was one of B&M’s first coasters, and it still performs on the level of coasters like Raptor, Talon, and the Batman clones. It couldn’t be the sole anchor of the park however, as it isn’t new enough anymore, and isn’t ground-breaking enough. With Gold Striker present, Flight Deck is the king of the steel coasters here, but is no longer forced to anchor the entire collection. Gold Striker is a perfect compliment.
Flight Deck's signature finale over the lake pops a bit more with a fresh coat of paint.
The park was packed, which bodes well for the future of the park. There still seems to be something missing, as it’s not quite a full-day park just yet, but the addition of one more major attraction in the coming years could make this park a force to be reckon with once again, and would make it the definitive park to go to in Northern California. The staff was friendly, and the access to nearby restaurants gives you options if you prefer not to eat park food.
Lastly, as I mentioned two years ago, there is truly something for everyone at this park. There are two distinct kids area, offering plenty to do for tikes, while a good collection of “tweener” rides are scattered about the park. Finally, the heavy thrills like Flight Deck, Vortex, and Gold Striker are evenly spaced about the park, rather than cramming them all in one part of the park. The result is almost a correct order to experience the park, and the flow of guests can go around the park’s circular layout in either direction, meaning you will rarely hit a giant mob of people at any one attraction.
Overall, I was very happy with my second-ever visit to California’s Great America, and it was definitely my favorite park of the trip. Gold Striker is fabulous, and the signs that proclaim it as “California’s Best Wooden Coaster” could not make more of an understatement. It is a top five wooden coaster even for the most seasoned enthusiasts. It is just one reason that people should finally start planning a specific visit to California’s Great America.
by Caine Donis
After many delays, and having media day pushed back, June 18, 2014 finally came, and the time to ride the much anticipated Goliath was now. Andy and I were ready conquer Six Flags' newest coaster creation, Goliath. As with most media days, our day started in the dark at 3:45 a.m. in the Great America parking lot, waiting to check in. As we walked into the dark and empty park Andy was like a little kid knowing that he got a new bike for Christmas. A line had already started, and dispatch after dispatch we waited. Because Goliath's second train was set to be certified later that day, the media day only had one train running during the whole day which made for long stretches of time for rabidly waiting riders. As the dark turned slowly turned into light, the time was soon upon us to board the coaster that we've discussing for almost a year.
As for the ride itself, Goliath definitely has many experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. The first drop is absolutely amazing. The force is so great, I had my arms up and as we dropped they went down. I tried to bring them back up but there was too much force to do so. The rest is a blur for the first ride, but with this ride you'll see something new every time you ride. The elements that RMC puts into the ride are just pure enjoyment. Overall is doesn't make my top ten list, but that is only because I don't have a top ten list. Like with X-Flight, I'll say this, it's fun. Fun is what a ride is supposed to be about. If we go and nitpick at every little nuance such as "it's too short, it not wood, it's not this or that" you lose out on the fun. I'm not saying you have to love it, but I think you should give it a chance and ride it before making an opinion on it.
After our first ride we set out into the park to take a break. First we decided to take some pictures of Trojan Bugs Bunny who was entertaining the crowds of roller coaster enthusiasts and media. We next went to search for food. The spread laid out was a bit underwhelming featuring the standard muffins, donuts, and Coca-Cola products. Determined to press on, we decided to take photos of the completed Goliath before the official ribbon cutting to Goliath. Before the ceremony the two of us were able to sneak on a second ride on Goliath. Next up was the official opening ceremony for Goliath. As the park president Hank Salemi started to talk about the wonders of Goliath, the skies became angry and dark ominous clouds began to appear. Despite this, a horde of gladiators rushed to Salemi's side to usher in the opening of the new ride. After a few words, the train of gladiators went out on their maiden voyage, and Goliath was officially open.
As hinted at, the media day itself did have a number of different setbacks including maintenance issues and weather. First the weather was not cooperative at all for the opening of Goliath. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, the rain then came and was so furious that Andy and I took cover under the nearby covered bridge. In addition, the ride experienced some technical difficulties. I'm not going to say much about the down time caused by media trying to get shots for news coverage because we all know that will happen with media days. In addition a wheel ended up breaking, and maintenance quickly got it fixed. Luckily, nobody was serious injured when that happened either. Even though these technical issues happened, as time passed into the late morning the ride reopened, and we got a few more rides in. Especially exciting, we were able to get three rides in a row plus our reverse POV. I ended up with a total of 8 rides on Six Flags' newest creation for the day.
I do want to thank Six Flags Great America for having Andy and myself there representing COASTER-net.com. They have truly changed not only the skyline of a great America, but the way people look at this park from now on.
by Danny Miller
Most of us keep a list of some sort of all the roller coaster we have ridden, and some of us like to have rankings and compare them to determine which ones are best. Lost in the mix of doing this is talking about those rides that are now gone and can no longer be ridden. There are far too many of them to count, but there are several iconic ones that come to mind. Today I’ve picked five coasters that I never rode before they went to the big scrap heap in the sky to highlight in a list of notable defunct coasters.
HERCULES @ DORNEY PARK – It’s not a topic that I bring up often, because frankly, I don’t like to mention that I never rode Hercules. It may surprise you, but despite living just fifteen minutes from Dorney Park, Hercules is a coaster I never rode. My first real trip to Dorney Park was in 2005 during Hydra’s debut year with my 8th grade class. I had gone to Dorney once prior as a kid, but was too small and probably wasn’t at the age where I would have wanted to ride even if I could. I remember going to my grandparent’s house and driving by Hercules. We would sometimes even stop at the side of the road to watch it. But all those years as a tot admiring the once record-breaking drop, I never rode it.
Time and reprofiling weren’t kind to Hercules, and it was unceremoniously demolished at the end of 2003 in favor of a new B&M floorless coaster that, while a good ride, lacks the pop and pizzazz I imagine Hercules must have had. The park paid a nice tribute to Hercules by laying in the back-story to Hydra, but it doesn’t ease the pain. Park employees actually call the basement of Hydra’s station “The Herc,” usually used as a meeting place for supervisors. I have ridden hundreds of coasters, but this is one that my dad, aunt, and late grandfather will always have that I won’t.
DRACHEN FIRE @ BUSCH GARDENS WILLIAMSBURG – Almost in the same category as Hercules, Drachen Fire is one of those coasters that is well-known largely because it wasn’t a favorite. Drachen Fire was birthed after B&M backed out of the project, allowing Arrow to come in and build the already-designed layout. The unique maneuvers are what made Drachen Fire so sought-after, but also led to its undoing. A new style of train that failed to relieve the roughness gained much criticism, and the park even removed one of the inversions a few years in to try and improve the ride experience. Combine all of this with poor placement in the park, and Drachen Fire was a recipe for disaster from the start. It may not have been a great ride, but Drachen Fire is one of those rides like Son Of Beast. Even if it’s a bad ride, I want to be able to say it was a bad ride for myself.
AIRPLANE COASTER @ RYE PLAYLAND – In the glory days of Rye Playland, they had what is considered by many to be one of the greatest coasters ever built. The Airplane Coaster, built by Fred Church, was the star attraction in Rye for nearly thirty years until 1957. It was high, fast, and incredibly thrilling, and it’s considered by historians to be one of the last great coasters to be built in the Golden Age of coasters in the 1920s. Rye Playland still exists today in a state of disrepair, but the also-popular Dragon Coaster still operates there to this day. Many locals believe that the rebirth of the Airplane Coaster could spark a comeback for Rye Playland, and there is even a Facebook page dedicated to demanding its return. I would certainly enjoy seeing this ride come back, as I would get a chance to experience what could have been one of the greatest coaster of all time.
CYCLONE RACER @ LONG BEACH PIKE – I’ve mentioned this ride a couple of times over the years, but the Cyclone Racer could also be put in the category of one of the greatest coaster ever to have been built. Fred Church’s only racer design ever, the Harry Traver built wooden twin stood proudly above the Pacific Ocean, pursued by everyone in the area. Dubbed “The World’s Greatest Ride,” Cyclone Racer appeared in many different ways over the years, from a glossy white, to an awesome natural wood color in its final years of operation. Several pages and websites call for the return of this historic coaster, and recently, there have been discussions that the ride may find a way to return to Southern California. Whatever the result is, I’m sure most of us wish we could have had just one ride on the “World’s Greatest Ride.”
TRAVER TRIPLETS – So I may be cheating here by squeezing three coasters in to one, but the infamous “Traver Triplets” are undisputedly the three most intense coasters ever built. The Crystal Beach Cyclone (the most famous of the three), the Palisades Park Cyclone, and the Revere Beach Lightning all were nearly identical in design, and were Harry Traver’s most dubious creations. They each had nurses on duty at the exit, as riders often got off the ride with neck/back pain, headaches, nose bleeds, and even broken bones. On Lightning’s second day of operation, a rider was actually thrown from the train and killed. After a while, the trio scared riders so much, it became a spectator sport, and the rides were torn down. Lucky for us, the Crystal Beach Cyclone was used to give rise to the Comet, another fabulous coaster that we can still enjoy today at Great Escape in Lake George, New York. I don’t know about you, but I would have died to ride one of these three coasters, and depending on my luck, it may have almost been a reality!
So there is my list of five defunct coasters that I never rode that I wish I could have. Do any of these rides make your own list? Would you make a special trip to ride if any of these rides came back in another form? Leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts!
Better Late Than Never?
by Danny Miller
You know, it’s not too often that I come to COASTER-net to express my complaints. Most of the time I write to tell you about how awesome a trip was, how much I liked a new ride or something along those lines. After a brief leave of absence from writing, I’m coming back to the blogs from my apartment near my summer job back in Buffalo, New York. Last week I talked about Darien Lake, its lack of new rides, and its declining attendance. While I may have given the park a slap on the wrist, I did my best to put a positive spin on, as I am hopeful that another down year may mean something that much bigger in the near future.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I woke up this morning, looked at my phone, and saw that it was June, I had to stop and think about it for a minute. We are now in the heart of the three-month peak season for theme parks, and more than a few parks still have yet to open their signature attractions they’ve been hyping up all winter. Sure, the anticipation gets higher, but with that comes increased expectations, and thus, and much more likely case of “anticipointment” as the hosts of the Coasterradio.com podcast have talked about so brilliantly in the past.
I’ve referred to the term before, but for those of you who may be puzzled, “anticipointment” is the combinations of high expectations that result in disappointment. This doesn’t mean the ride is bad. In fact, the ride still may be great, but if it doesn’t meet your expectations, it may not seem to be as great as it is. So why all the talk about high expectations? Remember Firechaser Express at Dollywood? That opened this year. How about Banshee at Kings Island? That’s a new-for-2014 ride too. It seems like forever ago that these rides opened. More recently, Story Land, Canada’s Wonderland, and Walt Disney World all opened signature rides on or around Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial kick-off of summer. Kudos to these parks for making sure their new rides were ready for one of the biggest weekends of the season.
But hold the phone. Other big-box parks have big attractions still under construction, and some aren’t close to opening. I’m going to look at three of them in particular. Let’s start close to my home at Six Flags Great Adventure. Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom is the highly-anticipated, world-record-breaking drop ride that is being attached to the Kingda Ka tower. Now I understand that it’s not as simple as this, but literally three 420 foot-long pieces of track are being bolted to the tower.
Now the winter on the east coast was harsh, and it’s not easy to do construction that high up with rain, snow, and wind. You also have to consider the construction to get back there and the new path, but they were nowhere near being ready for this ride to open a few weeks ago when I visited the park. I’m sorry Six Flags, but if Cedar Point can build a record-breaking coaster AND redo their entire main entrance plaza with their geography and have it ready ahead of schedule, you can certainly do better than June for a ride that requires minimal construction efforts.
Elsewhere in the Six Flags chain, Goliath at Six Flags Great America, the highly-anticipated wooden coaster from Rocky Mountain Construction, limps along, finally entering initial testing this past weekend. The media event (open to coaster clubs) was initially planned for Memorial Day Weekend, and then was pushed back a week after crews were behind schedule. Now, the park has said that event may not even take place, as they are so far behind that they just need to get it opened. The real problem is that the ride didn’t even go vertical until around the time Banshee’s track was COMPLETE down in Cincinnati.
In an area with bad weather like Chicago, failing to get a jump on construction was a big mistake, and it’s costing them dearly. With testing in the earliest stages, it’s still a couple weeks until it opens, and that’s pushing July, nearly halfway through their season. Aside from the delay, this is a ride getting hyped because of the success of Outlaw Run. The thing most people don’t realize is that this is not going to be Outlaw Run. It isn’t a terrain coaster, there is considerably less spots of airtime (or so it appears), and some are questioning whether the inversions will be as thrilling as Outlaw Run’s. The course is short too, something that kept Outlaw Run from being higher on my personal list. I am going to make every effort to ride it this year, but I’m keeping expectations mild at best to avoid the “anticipointment” I fear several people may experience.
Not to make this all about Six Flags, Busch Gardens Tampa is having their fair share of problems too. Falcon’s Fury, the ground-breaking drop tower in the middle of the park, is redefining the skyline of the park, but guests are currently just standing there watching. To be fair, those guests usually do a double-take, take a video, and ask, “Did it really just do that?” Yes it did. Falcon’s Fury looks pretty impressive, much like the other two rides, although I do wish the seats stayed facing the ground just a bit longer, but that’s another topic for discussion after the ride opens. Like the others, the intended opening date is being missed, and delays keep pushing the debut back. The good thing for Busch Gardens that they are a year-round park, so they don’t rely as much on the summer months. I just hope Falcon’s Fury doesn’t become another Mach Tower because I love the Busch parks and would really hate to see them miss with a ride as unique as this.
So after taking into consideration what we’ve talked about, I’d like to get your thoughts on this. Which of the above three rides has the most inexcusable delays? Is it Zumanjaro, the drop ride that requires very little construction, Goliath, the coaster that started construction very late, or Falcon’s Fury, the first-of-its-kind drop tower that just can’t seem to finish up its testing?