Quantcast

Travel: Roller-coaster mania in California theme parks

Published May 17, 2013 2:49 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At California theme parks, it's the year of the roller coaster, with four new ones — all very different ­— scheduled to make their debut. Great America is ready to unveil its new marquee ride, a soaring wooden coaster; Six Flags Magic Mountain is building a super-tall vertical loop; the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is adding a seaside coaster that spins; and at Knott's Berry Farm, a "wild mouse"-style roller coaster will join the lineup. (Like tiny mice, wild-mouse coasters can be scarier than they look.) Here's our annual roundup of new thrill rides, as well as tamer entertainment for the scaredy cats among us.

CALIFORNIA'S GREAT AMERICA

What's new • Great America is looking to strike gold with the sizable contingent of wood roller-coaster enthusiasts. Its latest, and some would say greatest, attraction is Gold Striker, billed as "the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California." Riders will soar as high as 108 feet, giving them a bird's-eye view of the construction going on at the nearby San Francisco 49ers' stadium. Yet this will be anything but a leisurely sightseeing trip. The coaster moves at speeds approaching 54 mph, along dramatic twists, turns and vertical descents, the steepest of which is reportedly 50 degrees. Gold Striker is set to open in late May.

Bargain alert • Buy online to save $14 off adult single-day tickets. Season pass, $59.99. All tickets include free admission to Boomerang Bay Waterpark.

Details • Open May 18-19, May 21-22, then daily starting May 25. 4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara. 408-988-1776; http://www.cagreatamerica.com.

SIX FLAGS DISCOVERY KINGDOM

What's new • Discovery Kingdom is taking the tried-and-true "dolphin show" to new heights with "Cirque Dreams Splashtastic," which is billed as "the Most Amazing Show Above H2O." The park has partnered with Neil Goldberg's acclaimed Cirque Dreams entertainment group for this production, which will feature both marine mammals and a troupe of acrobats and aerialists. "Splashtastic" will debut May 25 at the park's Dolphin Harbor Theater.

Another top attraction is the Superman Ultimate Flight, a towering roller coaster that opened last year. The DC Comics-themed coaster stands 15 stories high and carries riders at speeds of as much as 62 mph, through twists, turns and vertical rolls, along 863 feet of track.

Bargain alert • Save $20 on a ticket when you buy at least three days in advance. A season pass deal offers free parking if you buy four passes.

Details • Open for the season. 1001 Fairgrounds Drive, Vallejo. 707-643-6722; http://www.sixflags.com/discoverykingdom.

SANTA CRUZ BEACH BOARDWALK

What's new • Ready to go for a spin? Then make plans to check out Undertow, which is being advertised as the only spinning coaster in Northern California. The ride races at speeds of up to 40 mph, twisting and turning riders about in all kinds of disorienting angles along the 1,410 feet of track. Yes, the ride even does a complete 360-degree carousel spin. Once the ride has come to an end, it's time to ride it again — since, according to the Boardwalk folks, "Undertow's unique design ensures that no two rides are ever the same." Undertow will join the Boardwalk's classic wooden coaster from 1924, the Giant Dipper, sometime this summer.

The "Free Friday Night Bands on the Beach" series offers up two shows, at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., Fridays June 14-Aug. 30. The lineup includes modern-rockers ABC (June 14), classic-rockers Blue Oyster Cult (July 12) and funk band War (Aug. 9).

Bargain alert • Buy tickets at Costco and save as much as 33 percent on some packages.

Details • Open for the season. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. 831-423-5590; http://www.beachboardwalk.com.

GILROY GARDENS FAMILY THEME PARK

What's new • For kids, Gilroy Gardens is a park of gentle rides, games and shows. For their parents and grandparents, it's a horticultural wonderland of twisted trees and landscaped gardens made possible by tree lover Michael Bonfante. For its 13th season, the park is enhancing its mission of "learning disguised as fun," with Backyard Monsters, an interactive exhibit with giant animated insects; live shows by the "Mike the Knight" character; and ROYelle, a new female sidekick for the garlic-clove mascot, GILbert. Together, GIL and ROY (get it?) will perform interactive musical revues.

Bargain alert • Online discount offers best savings on one-day tickets. Until June 1, a season pass costs $34.99 (kids 3-10, seniors 62-plus) or $44.99 general. And active-duty military personnel get free admission May 25-27, July 4-7 and Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

Details • Open weekends and Memorial Day, then daily from June 6. 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy. 408-840-7100; http://www.gilroygardens.org.

DISNEYLAND

What's new • This year, royalty and magic trump roller coasters as Disneyland unveils new offerings that will appeal to its young visitors. The park has created an entire Fantasy Faire princess village, complete with Tudor-style turreted architecture; a meet-and-greet hall where little parkgoers can meet Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Belle and Rapunzel; two princess-themed stage shows in the Royal Theatre; and a daily Royal Ribbon Parade around a maypole. On May 25, a new live show, "Mickey and the Magical Map," will make its debut in the refurbished outdoor Fantasyland Theatre. Sorcerer Mickey and the troupe will put on five daily performances of this show during the summer.

Bargain alert • Save up to $40 per ticket when you buy a Park Hopper ticket. Includes one Magic Morning early admission.

Details • 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. 800-854-3104, 714-781-7290 for guest relations, http://disneyland.disney.go.com.

DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE

What's new • Last year's huge new expansion, Cars Land, is still the biggest thing going at this companion theme park. This season, after hanging out with the Radiator Springs gang, preschoolers can sing, dance and play along at "Disney Junior: Live on Stage!" a new show with characters from the Disney Junior TV programs "Doc McStuffins" and "Sofia the First."

Bargain alert • Save up to $40 per ticket when you buy a Park Hopper ticket. Includes one Magic Morning early admission.

Details • Open daily. 1313 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. 800-854-3104, 714-781-7290 for guest relations, http://disneyland.disney.go.com.

SIX FLAGS MAGIC MOUNTAIN

What's new • Why, it just wouldn't be a new season at Six Flags without a new thrill ride. Nationally, Six Flags is king of the coasters, with 17 now and 18 when Full Throttle joins the roster. This new roller coaster will hurtle passengers both on the inside and the outside of what's being called the world's tallest vertical loop, at 160 feet. Look for a summer opening; no date has been announced. Full Throttle replaces the Log Jammer, one of the original rides when this Southern California park opened in 1971.

Bargain alert • Save $25 per ticket when you buy online — note, you must do this at least three days before your visit — and print at home.

Details • Open for the season. 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia. 661-255-4111; http://www.sixflags.com.

KNOTT'S BERRY FARM

What's new • This Orange County theme park is building out its Boardwalk Bay Area with three new attractions, including the Coast Rider, a 1,339-foot-long track designed to mimic the California coast — only with harrowing twists and turns. This will be a "wild mouse"-style coaster with small cars that race sharply into curves, giving riders the feeling that they're going to hurtle over the edge. (Sounds like parts of Highway 1, all right.) On another new attraction, Surfside Gliders, riders will pilot their way in two-person aircraft 28 feet above the ground. The third new ride, Pacific Scrambler, is designed to evoke traditional boardwalk fun.

Bargain alert • Knott's is the most reasonably priced of the SoCal parks. Online single-day tickets can be had for as low as $26.99 (kids/seniors) and $36.99 general admission.

Details • Open daily. 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park; 714-220-5200; http://www.knotts.com.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOLLYWOOD

What's new • Last year's blockbuster, Transformers: The Ride 3-D, and a VIP Experience behind-the-scenes tour will reign at Universal Studios Hollywood as the park constructs its next big thing, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a movie-based motion simulation ride scheduled to open in 2014. On the back-lot Studio Tour, tram riders will encounter King Kong 360 3-D, a Peter Jackson-made screen creature 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. Late this summer, construction is set to start on The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Bargain alert • Buy a one-day ticket for $80 and get the rest of 2013 free. Note that some blackout dates (holidays, some weekends) apply at this price. But you can upgrade to add a visit on a blackout date or buy a no-blackout pass.

Details • Open daily. 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City. 800-864-8377; http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com.

LEGOLAND CALIFORNIA

What's new • Kids can now eat, sleep and dream bricks at this San Diego County park. In April, Legoland opened a three-story, 250-room themed hotel with restaurants adjacent to the amusement park. About 3 million Lego bricks were used to create the 3,422 Lego models found on-site, as well as the 400,000-brick dragon that stands sentry at the hotel's entrance.

Bargain alert • Get five days at three parks — Legoland California, Legoland Water Park and SeaLife Carlsbad Aquarium — for the price of one resort-hopper ticket. Or, save $15 and get a second day for free when you book seven days in advance.

Details • 1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad. 760-918-5346; http://california.legoland.com; http://www.visitsealife.com.