Raphael, our special correspondent from Brazil, visited California for the first time this July. As a Florida park-fan, he decided to visit the opposite coast, and visited almost every single park in the state. His enthusiasm and great re-telling of his Californian adventures, mark the beginning of California Coaster Kings’ newest set of articles and trip reports. – iCCK is a more personalized, background-rich way of providing coverage. Here’s Raphael’s Northern California Adventure.
California was a big dream since my childhood, ever since I used to play the famous Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 game. For those who remember, Six Flags has some parks featured in the game, probably already know what created my West Coast dream: Magic Mountain. Seeing X, Colossus, Goliath, Viper and other coasters in RCT2 messed with my head in a way. “How amazing and incredible could this place be in real life?” That was the moment when, without knowing it yet, I became a coaster enthusiast.
For years, I did nothing but improve upon my knowledge of theme parks and roller coasters. I found out that Six Flags Magic Mountain didn’t just have the biggest collection of roller coasters in the world, but was also located in the state with the largest overall collection in the country.
By this time I was about 15 years old, and was living in a country without a large number of theme parks. Brazil doesn’t have lots to offer in the amusement industry. There are two theme parks, a few tiny amusement parks and many water parks. Not that great for a coaster enthusiast. That being said, I decided to cheer up and decided “I have to go to California”.
Unfortunately, when you’re a teenager, it’s difficult to travel by yourself. I had no job and I was about to enter High School, so I had to look at travel companies for California packages. To my surprise, I found nothing. Nothing that could guide me from North California to South California. Instead, I found a hundred packages for a destiny you may know: Orlando.
I was so desperate to get myself on B&Ms and Intamins that I bought an Orlando one. Here we went to Orlando! Although my trip was good, I did not get why Florida was (and still is) a big theme park destination, not only in my country, but also for people around the world. Yes, it has a ton of advanced technology, good roller coasters and superb theming. However, what about the other states, with better coasters, better theming and better entertainment? I constantly asked myself why this is the only one massive theme park destination (for the travel companies) in the entire world? Where are destinations like… California?
Years passed until I got into University as a Tourism student. I wanted to know more about how exactly theme parks are a masterpiece to tourism flows and how they affects people’s choices for a trip. Four more people and I united ourselves to make a study group with two targets: discover why people choose Florida and why Florida has became a master when it comes to tourism.
The results were very clear: people choose Florida mostly because of Walt Disney World and Florida fame was made because of it. Obvious, is not it? We were not satisfied, so it was time for step 2: “what if Walt Disney World and other Florida theme parks did not exist, you still would go there?” Mostly people said “no”.
By that, if Florida theme parks were taken, the state would suffer a dramatic loss in their travel numbers. Thinking about California, imagining the same situation, it is highly unlikely to see something like that happening. California is well known by the world (and by my country) mostly because of Hollywood,The Golden Gate Bridge, and beaches.
Then a question stayed inside my mind: “How can California be a massive theme park destination around the world like Florida?” To answer this, I had to go there.. I packed my bags, and this July I took a plane to San Francisco, decided not only to realize my childhood dream, but also to analyze everything and compare with my country and (why not?) Florida.
Based at San Francisco’s Union Square, my first park was California’s Great America. On my way to there, I noticed the first big difference: distance. At Florida, the theme parks are very close to each other, making it easier for a tourist to travel between them. In the Bay Area, CGA and SFDK are significantly far from each other, one located in the South Bay, the other in the Northeast. These kinds of thing increase the price of a tourism package, restricting the public.
However, the moment I arrived at Great America, Gold Striker was my reward for a very long airplane trip plus a road one. Having rode only Montezum and Gwazi (Lion), Goldstriker was an unbelievably smooth and thrilling experience. The other wooden coaster, The Grizzly, was not that awesome. In fact, this one has poor operations, taking so long to dispatch the train. During the ride, I felt some bumps but nothing too bad.
An interesting thing is that California’s Great America by itself has more wooden coasters than the entire Continent of South America and the same number as Florida. Another one is that there are the shelves separated by train on rollercoasters and on the rides to store loose articles, something I have not seen yet at Florida or Brazil.
I realized one more childhood dream, taking pictures with Charlie Brown and Snoopy from Peanuts. Many people loved Snoopy once he was a lot on TV and this love is still in their memories just like old Disney characters. Unfortunately, they do not know that are some theme parks around United States with Peanuts theming. Moreover, this is something no one can see in Florida.
The moment I rode Flight Deck I remembered why I love inverted coasters: G-Force. Although she is not quite something like Montu or Dragon Challenge, Flight Deck gave me incredible adrenaline and a thrilling albeit short experience. It’s much better than Beto Carrero World’s FireWhip (SLC). Also in Beto Carrero, Star Mountain, a Vekoma MK-1200, has a rougher experience than Demon which I found to be another fun ride and just a little rough around the edges.
When I was showing my mom pictures of Great America, she immediately said: “It is like to see Hopi Hari”. Although she is far from being a theme park expert, she could notice the similarities between them: classic rides. However, there are clear differences between them, and yes, I am talking about theming.
Ekatomb and FireFall are HUSS Top Spins. Ekatomb is themed after a swivel Egyptian tomb and has no water below it, only ground. On the other hand, FireFall has rockwork, water and fire effects (although they were not working). In general, the theming at California’s parks is definitely better than South America.
Other CGA’s classic flat rides stuck out to me like Delirium, HMB Endeavour, Orbit, Flying Scooters, Centrifuge, Celebration Swings and Berserker. Older and newer rides together is not something you can find at the big Orlando theme parks, as they have their simulator technology and have such steep competition that there is no room for older rides.
At first, it seems unfair (and somewhat ridiculous) to compare CGA’s rides with Orlando ones. Of course, this is not my point. It is to think about a person who is going to a theme park for the first time looking for thrills and excitement and have to choose between Great America and Universal Studios Florida. I bet it would have amazing fun at both parks, regardless of how technological the rides are.
That is what makes California unique. Different kinds of fun, rides and atmospheres. In addition, one of the most amazing atmospheres that I have ever seen is Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, where I did not know if I was in a Six Flags, Busch Gardens or SeaWorld. Moreover, this is something you cannot say about many parks in the world.
“Land”, “Sea” and “Sky” divide the park according to the map, showing the guests how different your day can be. I chose “Sky” to begin and ran directly into Oasis Plaza, where Medusa, Kong, Skyscreamer and Cobra stand. Sadly, Dare Devil Chaos Coaster was closed. After my first ride on Medusa, I was completely impressed with the quality of this coaster. Intense and smooth, Medusa is something we, Latin Americans, always dream of. Even though some of us have ridden Kraken, I say that that sea monster is easily defeated in a battle between these mythological coasters.
I felt a little bit at home when I saw Kong and Boomerang from Medusa’s lift. These types of coasters were (and are) a huge hit in Brazil and South America. Our Boomerang was taken out in 2012, but I can clearly remember the success it had. Everybody loved it. Unfortunately for me, I never had the chance to ride it, every time I went to Playcenter, it was closed. When I rode Boomerang from SFDK, I felt amazed. Finally, I was able to ride one, and it gave me a comfortable and fun and intense experience.
However, Kong did not give me the same, being rougher than Beto Carrero World’s FireWhip and rather uncomfortable. Luckily, everything was about to change as I approached V2. I have been on some inverted B&Ms, but the launch of V2 caught me in a fabulous way. That was something I have never experienced, something neither Orlando nor Latin America can offer with a very intense, thrilling, and unique experience with some great forces. Not only is V2 incredible, but also its neighbour, Roar. Significantly better than the old Gwazi and my homie Montezum, Roar has a unique track layout and feel honoring its subtitle – “You’ll never hear the end of it”.
My one-of-a-kind experiences would continue as I rode Superman: Ultimate Flight, that crazy airtime machine. Airtime is not something you can easily experience in Latin America roller coasters neither Orlando ones, so being on Superman’s inversion reminded me of my good times on Terra Encantada’s Monte Makaya, an Intamin 8-looper.
After all the adrenaline, I started to look for how SFDK can entertain families, and there are a plenty of options. I cannot imagine when I would be able to ride an elephant aside from at the Kingdom. Certainly, I would have to go to Africa, or something. To my surprise, I had this at Discovery Kingdom. Not only this, but also a breathtaking tiger show. The Kingdom wins by offering different and more personal experiences from safaris and cages.
The marine animals are much more accessible which creates a much closer experience than SeaWorld’s. The Kingdom has dolphins, walruses, penguins, seals and sharks, with their exhibitions almost next to each other. Besides, they have two amazing dolphin’ shows, “Drench!” being the most spectacular one, as well as Discover our Ocean friends.
It is possible to ride classic attractions too, like a top spin, swinging ship, a Gorilla-themed music express, river rapids, wave swinger and others like Hammerhead Shark, Tsunami Soaker and Tasmanian Devil. In addition, between them are Looney Tunes Seaport, Tava’s Jungleland and Seaside Junction, kiddie rides areas.
Speaking of Looney Tunes and its plushies, they have to share the space at the stores with DC comics characters and a dozen of animals, like giraffes, elephants, dolphins or sharks. Something unusual for a Six Flags, but very appropriate for Discovery Kingdom.
My final step in Northern California was Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, before I hit the road to LA. My country is full of beaches, with some being a surf paradise. These beaches have a massive tourist flow especially during the summer (of course!), just like Santa Cruz. Sadly, no one at my country had, years ago, an idea of building an amusement park at the waterfront. Moreover, the Boardwalk is what makes Santa Cruz a destination that goes beyond surf and skate, somewhere we can all call a true paradise.
My first contact with Pacific Ocean was somewhat special to me. Not only had it given me a refreshing bath, but also high winds, which made the day a lot more enjoyable. After my little baptism in the Pacific, it was time to Undertow. Even though I am used to Vurang, a Twist and Turn model from Intamin located at Hopi Hari, Undertow is what I can clearly call as a real spinning coaster. My expectations were very high before the ride, and the rollercoaster did not disappointed me. I lost my sense of direction for a couple of seconds twice and found it satisfyingly disorienting.. My neck did not like the ride very much though.
As I started walking through the Boardwalk, I realized how the park’s environment is completely wonderful. It keeps the soul of the parks by the sea, once famous in the United States. With this unique atmosphere filled with music of John Mayer and Colbie Caillat, it is something that definitely cannot be lived in the Orlando area or in the entire Latin America.
It only took one hour to be completely in love with the Boardwalk. People there confirmed something I had been fascinated since the beginning of the trip: how gentle and friendly Californians are. Everytime that I got into the line for something, someone started a nice conversation with me.
Some rides were very familiar to me, like the Pirate Ship, Double Shot, Rock and Roll, Fireball (Frisbee), Tsunami and the SeaSwings. However, the last one gave me a gorgeous view of the beach and is the most beautiful I have ever seen.
The Boardwalk could offer two things I have been scared of since I learned their existence: Rock-O-Plane and Cyclone. Both are terrifying and sadly, I am still afraid to try again. The park has other rides I have never seen in Brazil like the Cliff Hanger and the Tornado.
A banner in the middle of the Boardwalk constantly reminded me of the main reason I was there: to ride the historic Giant Dipper. My experience started already at the queue, as I saw amazing photos from the past and facts about the coaster. However, one fact I did not know.
Before I leave Brazil, I decided not to see some roller coasters POVs to be catched by surprise. Giant Dipper was one of them and you can imagine how I freaked out with that dark pre-lift. Amazing, simply amazing. Unfortunately, the coaster itself was not like that despite its good layout. A lot of head banging and “knee banging” in the entire ride after the first drop.
I left my heart at Santa Cruz. What a lovely place! After a glorious day, it was time to hit the road and go to LA area, where my next stop, Pacific Park, would be waiting for me.
Read more soon… in the next part of iCCK’s series of Raphael’s travels to the Golden State.