Patriot Ride Review at California's Great America

Patriot is the newest thing at California's Great America and is a fine example of breathing new life into an aging early 90s  roller coaster (Their oldest being the Demon). Originally known as Vortex, the attraction made its initial debut in 1991 as a stand up coaster sporting a green track/black support color scheme. It was announced late Summer 2016 that Vortex would be giving its final rides on Labor Day Weekend and will reopen in 2017 as Patriot. Patriot is the bay area's 2nd B&M floorless roller coaster in which riders ride sitting down with their feet dangling in the open air above the track. How did the conversion do for Patriot?

The dreaded corkscrew moment with the stand up configuration...

Vortex had become infamous for being one of the roughest B&M coasters out there (which B&M is known for smooth and comfortable experiences). A lot of the discomfort was due to standing up on blocky bicycle saddle-type seats and top-heavy trains. Also due to the nature of standing up, dispatch times weren't the greatest as it was frequent that riders would have to get their seat heights readjusted as they didn't "stand properly." The ride was certainly not the "must ride" at Great America anymore as the novelty of standing up is far gone.

After the stand-up coaster "Rougarou" at sister park Cedar Point was converted to a floorless design, it was inevitable that our own aging stand-up coaster would be next in line. Rumors popped up throughout the last year up until the announcement.

New signage, seamlessly blending in with the rest of Hometown Square

Patriot is a hugely improved experience has turned it from a ride we would occasionally do on a slow day to a ride that we now add to our list of rides we must do in a typical CGA visit. Don't expect the ride to be glass smooth as there's still a bit of rattle - the result of being one of the earliest B&M coasters made. The rattle is nothing like what it used to be in its Vortex form.

Now that we are sitting down riding it, we experience forces we had not seen before on this ride. Initially coming out of the loop, there's some nice floaty hangtime, especially in the back rows. The snappy transitions are still there, but without the neck snapping. Coming up to the element we once dreaded - the corkscrew...The corkscrew has become a huge hit among us and other coaster fans, especially when sitting on the left side in the rear. As the train exits the corkscrew, there's a semi strong snap that lifts you out of the seat giving a nice zero-g feeling. We had also tried the corkscrew in the front seats and found our bodies being shot forward into the restraint. Not a painful experience but definitely something we've never felt on a ride before!

Our favorite part of the ride, particularly in the rear left seats!

This snappy corkscrew was meant to be be taken in sitting down! Standing up, not so much...

Patriot is just the beginning of a new beginning for California's Great America, along with Mass Effect: New Earth - last year's revitalization project in the aging Action FX theater and as a whole, it feels like a brand new experience. It will also breath new life into the Hometown Square section of the park alongside the new Maggie's Smoke House upgrade. We highly recommend going out to the park and give it a ride again, you'll quickly see that it was quite an improvement to the old stand-up configuration.

Did you get to ride Patriot? How did you like it compared to the former stand up configuration, Vortex? Let us know in the comments below!


CGA Opening Day 2017 Update

After three months of dormancy since WinterFest, California’s Great America has officially opened for the 2017 season! In this update, we’ll fill you in on our opening day experience, including all the changes and improvements happening around the park as well as the occasional operational problem.

A common problem with opening day is that operations are slow, and the 2017 season is no different. Ride crews have yet to get into their groove (it is their first day after all and will find their groove in the coming weeks), and some rides such as Star Tower were not running yet. These problems do eventually iron out as they have year after year, and by the time summer comes the park should be running on all cylinders.

Operations aside, the park has made some notable infrastructure improvements as well as a significant upgrade to their flagship eatery. Maggie Brown’s Fried Chicken has transformed into Maggie’s Smokehouse and Fried Chicken, which adds tasty new offerings and an upgraded order system similar to the one implemented at Food Festival in 2016. Maggie’s is undoubtedly one of the main highlights of the 2017 season outside of Patriot (which will officially open Saturday April 1st, with media and season pass previews on March 31st), all this and more in the photos below!

The park readies itself for 2017.
Guests are now welcomed by new landscaping patterns by the reflection pond
Gold Striker beckons in the background
CGA’s vice president and general manager Raul Rehnborg announces Patriot’s opening date 
along with the lineup of improvements for 2017.
…and a shot of confetti, the park opens its gates!
Our first stop, of all places, is Psycho Mouse. This ride has had its control system overhauled by Irvine Ondrey Engineering, who did the controls for Gold Striker. We hope this will improve the capacity of the ride as it tends to develop a long line.
Speaking of Gold Striker, we find it is finally starting to show its age, as any wooden coaster would. Let’s hope it ages well!

This new Gold Striker merchandise is hilarious and awesome! If anything, it tells that just because there’s two wooden coasters in the park doesn’t mean they offer the same ride experience, far from it!

Over at the classic Arrow looper Demon, some much needed shade has been installed over the queue.

All the tubs on Flying Eagles have been repainted, now they sport their original deep blue color as they were in 2002.

Something’s missing here…

Hopefully the park will come up with something cool to place here in the coming years, as the remaining water and rockwork can be an eyesore as far as having a cohesive atmosphere in the area.

Here we go for the big highlight of the day (and possibly the season), Maggie’s Smokehouse and Fried Chicken! They’ve added a smooth, quick touch screen menu just like at food festival.

The flooring has been redone in a fashion similar to Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm, a sister park in southern California

The outdoor seating area has also gained some new tables.

A redone kitchen...

…and a rotisserie oven bring a more dynamic feel to the area as well.

We tried the tri-tip steak and thought it was very good! When you order a platter you can choose two sides that will be included in the meal.

The tri-tip is hand cut as seen here.

It would not be 2017 at CGA without Patriot!

This sign provides the details of the ride’s opening next weekend.

New floorless trains from B&M sit on the track awaiting their first riders (no water dummies do not count!).

The season pass processing center waiting area provides one of the best shots of the ride.

Thanks for reading our opening day update, stay tuned for our upcoming Patriot update!


WinterFest Takes Over California's Great America

Several seasons ago, it was unheard of to visit a theme park after Halloween events came to a close. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has had their Holiday in the Park event for several years now and this year, Great America steps into the arena with their brand new WinterFest event.

Larger than life toy soldiers line the front ticket booths.

Typically when something is done for the first time, it's done in baby steps, to test the waters before going all out. The creative minds behind the WinterFest event had a different frame of thinking - to go all out. Needless to say, WinterFest has now created a new standard for theme park holiday events in the area.

Plenty of atmosphere as you enter the park, decorations surrounding the nearby
"Snow Flake Lake" ice skating rink.

As you enter the park you find that the  iconic reflection pond has been transformed into an ice skating rink dubbed "Snow Flake Lake." For a small fee ($15) one can book a 30 minute session out on the ice rink (made up of real ice too, not the synthetic plastic "Glice."

As one enters the front plaza, they get a small taste of what they're about to experience beyond the gates.

Just beyond the iconic Carousel Columbia stands a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree. Before the night begins, the park kicks off with a nightly tree lighting ceremony featuring a choir and special guests to help light the tree. The ceremony features a number of holiday classic songs and the lighting of the massive Christmas Tree!

The choir begins the night with some Christmas favorites!

Countdown begins for the lighting!

The massive tree lit up during the night.

A handful of rides are open, giving a selection of gentle and thrilling rides for everyone. Gold Stiker and Flight Deck are included in the list of high-thrill attractions. One of the attractions received a holiday overlay, the park's iconic Star Tower which has been transformed into the "North Pole." The North Pole has a custom onboard soundtrack with narrative based off the "Night Before Christmas." We were delighted to hear a subtle Easter egg that was dropped in the ride's audio and We're sure other Haunt fans were excited too!

Snow Flake Lake down below, as seen from the North Pole (Star Tower)

Take a ride on "Cold Striker" too!

If rides aren't quite your thing, there is still a ton to do at the park with plenty of live entertainment around the park. One of our favorite shows there was Tinker's Toy Factory as it tells a meaningful story and depicts some of mishaps with our current generation of youth as one of the lead elves feel that kids don't care to play with simple toys these days.

The lively cast of Tinker's Toy Factory

Poor Tinker isn't quite feeling up to it...

Nobody wants old fashioned toys, something Tinker has a soft spot for.

The rather demanding lead elf takes a time out to write out his wish list.

Kids want Xboxes, Apple Watches, Wireless headphones...not Teddy Bears...

Somebody out there still cares for old fashioned simple gifts.

Also be sure to check out the ice skating spectacular, It's Christmas, Snoopy! This show takes on a more milder/relaxing pace as the Peanuts crew tell the true meaning of Christmas. Other shows include Jingle Jazz, a group of acapella singers who do frequent shows in the Hometown Gazebo, Cool Yule - a choir singing several favorite holiday tunes by the 60-foot tree, and Holly Jolly Trolley where a small San Francisco-style cruises through Hometown Square, making a stop in front of the Gold Striker gift shops for a singing performance.

Holly Jolly Trolley - brings back the days of when Great America had a trolley that traveled around the park.
This one is not designed for guests to ride however :)

When not checking out the shows, there are plenty of eye-popping visuals throughout the park including Orleans Place, featuring high-energy music with lights synced to them. It's fun to walk through as the lights pulsate and change color to the rhythm of the music.

Orleans Place "The Mistletoe" Shop with a cool lighting package.

Mistletoe Shop and Antique Photos (along with other buildings in Orleans Place) also equipped with
colorful flood lights that light the walls and roofs.

A very colorful Orleans Place from above.

Orleans Place looking toward Celebration Plaza. Since the lights all flash on and off,
a long exposure is a must if you want to catch a view of Orleans Place with all the lights on at once :)

Theatre Royale also equiped with some cool lights!

Another simple but unique area in the park is the Candy Cane Lane area. A small bypass was set up between Delirium and First Aid, taking guests up a small section of the employee service road. To mask off the would-be backstage area, chain link fences with holiday-themed banners cover employee-only areas as giant metal candy cane structures with overhead lighting dot the path.

Candy Cane Lane (Service Road). Wax Museum building is to the left.

Hometown Square - Can these building lights stay on year round? It looks really cool!

Hometown Square can easily continue to run these white lights year round as they work rather well.

Last but not least there are plenty of other miscellaneous things to check out in the park, from taking photos with different holiday characters to writing letters to Santa, to other various photo ops all over the park.

Just one of many photo ops. We've heard of people thinking they goofed up on assembling this photo card...
...thinking they put the backdrop on upside down. 

Reality is, you're supposed to flip the image over afterwards. Who doesn't like flying upside down?
This is one of our favorite photo ops and a pretty cool/fun illusion.

Just one of many memorable and lovable characters roaming the the themed areas.

"Bah Humbug! What is that device you are pointing at me, sir?!?"
Did you get to experience WinterFest at California's Great America? The park will be going into daily op starting next week so if you haven't gotten a chance to get out to the park to witness this spectacular event, we urge you make it a point to do so soon! There's something there for everyone, young and old, thrill seeker and non riders. If you experienced WinterFest, let us know in the comments below of your thoughts, we'd like to hear from you!