Patriot - Vortex Floorless Conversion Update (and Exclusive close-up look at the new trains)

Vortex is barely recongizable as a lot of progress has been made over the past few weeks. Most of the track has been painted with a nice, vibrant blue and it looks like the supports will be next as sections have been masked off.

We were fortunate enough to catch some action yesterday as the crew was removing some of the rail's pin striping. Ever wondered why on the coaster rails there's a strip of bare metal running down the center and side? It's not because they "missed a spot" but because that's where the wheels make contact with the rails. Having no paint there reduces the friction between the rails and the wheels and overall eliminates any potential problems that would affect the train's wheels.

Vortex grave site with Patriot looming over.

Workers are removing the strips along the rails, the areas in which the wheels will make contact with.

Supports look like they have fresh paint on it, they had masked off the area where the track and supports join.

Patriot painting crew seemed to have been excited when we pulled out the camera to get a close up of the work being done :)

Peeling that strip away, exposing the bare metal rail underneath.

The brake run has yet to be painted as there's still work to be done.
You can see the bare metal stripes on the rails in the background.

As simple as the color scheme is, it brings new life into the park.

Sections of track have been completely covered as to prevent accidental over-spray.

Closer up look at the pinstriped rails, on top for where the road wheels make contact
and along the side where the guide wheels make contact.

We aren't exactly sure what's happening in the station but the entire thing looks like it's been ripped apart. We are hoping the station will get a nice upgrade, you know, like having a roof :)

Station work to still be done.

The station looks like a war zone at the moment :)

The walls on the queue side have been ripped out.

Lastly, during the ACE NorCal "Ace Night at the Haunt V" we were taken to the back to get a close up look at the new Patriot trains which had recently arrived on site. Patriot will be getting a nice upgrade with magnetic brakes as well. Photos of the train and backstage area were taken with permission on an authorized tour with ACE.

New trains, they look like they sit up a little higher than a normal floorless coaster's trains
for heartlining purposes (and reduce discomfort when entering a banked section)

For you wheel fans :)

Magnetic brake fins are visible under the car (those flat white horizontal plates)

Even at night Patriot's blue pops!

Are you excited for Patriot? Let us know in the comments below!


FearVR: Unplugged - Great America Shuts Down Latest Attraction

After a brief 3 nights of operating, California' Great America's (and Knott's Berry Farm's) hottest Haunt attractions FearVR 5150 were shut down. Shortly after making their debut, Cedar Fair dropped the "5150" name, which is a police code for confining somebody who has gone mentally unstable.

Complaints began when people felt that this attraction geared towards adults was insensitive to those who suffered from mental illnesses. It is said that "NAMI-OC (National Alliance of Mental Illness, Orange County) believes it is in the poorest taste that mental illness stereotypes are being used by entertainment sources for commercial gain." The initial complaints and protests stemmed from sister park Knott's Berry Farm, and from a man who was at Knott's Scary Farm trying to go in and check out FearVR. By the time he "made his appointment" it was already sold out for the evening. Going off of assumptions, he felt that the whole theme of the attraction he never experienced was insensitive to those who suffer from mental illness. Cedar Fair felt it was of best interest to shut down the attractions at their 3 parks that have them in their Haunt lineup.

This attraction is NOT for kids.

So what exactly is going on inside the VR attraction anyway?

Guests initially set up an appointment and pay the $10 fee and are given a return time. When the time has come, guests are seated in a waiting area and watch a brief video on what they're about to experience - essentially a safety spiel and brief back story of a patient named Katie who has been possessed - not mentally ill. She is running around the hospital causing havok with use of telekinetic powers and is out to get you. You are at the mercy of the hospital staff to get you out.

When the room clears out, 7 guests are seated and put on the VR headsets and can adjust the focus before their hands are strapped down to stationary wheel chairs. Headsets are then put on and the guests are taken on their way into the attraction.

The attraction begins with an "injection" on your arm (and you feel a little jab on your right wrist from a small actuator built into the chair's armrests). During this time you are wheeled around the hospital corridors as you encounter the possessed patient that's run amok (which looks more zombie-like than anything).

Insane asylums and such are nothing new in the world of haunted attractions. We've seen crazy clowns for years now and have even seen insane asylums and such in horror films. California's Great America also has "Lockdown" and "Insanitarium," a scarezone and maze that compliment each other. Insanitarium was inspired by the Agnews Insane Asylum during the 1906 earthquake. The asylum crumbled to the ground killing 100 or so patients that were there. The site had been said to be haunted since.

We are let down that a cutting edge attraction was closed down after a short 3 nights of operating, with a whole Halloween season ahead of it. FearVR 5150 was an attraction that stood out as it's something California's Great America has never done before and the attraction was a pretty convincing experience.

Were you among the few that got to experience FearVR? Did you find it offensive? Let us know in the comments below but let's keep things clean.


Halloween Haunt is Back! Opening Weekend Thoughts


Halloween Haunt is back at California's Great America and better than before! After what we felt was overall a lackluster Haunt in 2015, California's Great America turned things around quickly for a fresh new experience come 2016.

Thrills by the Bay previewed FearVR 5150 prior to Haunt opening. The typical guest will not
actually see a line like this. Also note the Christmas lights on building, in preparation for the
upcoming WinterFest. "When holidays collide" :)

First and foremost, Haunt has gone "high tech" this year. It makes sense as Great America sits right in the middle of Silicon Valley. New this season is the FearVR 5150 (Also just known as FearVR after recent forced name changes) attraction where patients are strapped (literally) to a stationary wheel chair and don VR headsets (Using Samsung VR powered by Oculus) as they are admitted into Meadowbrook Institute and are wheeled around the corridors. In order to experience this attraction, patients must schedule an appointment at the front desk of the location and pay their $10 copay before they are admitted.

Must be 13 years or older to participate in FearVR 5150.

We were impressed to see how smooth the appointment scheduling went and how quick a few members of our party who didn't get to preview it earlier that night were admitted and taken through the institute. The experience overall is about 10 minutes (pre-show included).

Realistic hospital wristband from FearVR 5150. These have your
return time printed on them once you've made your appointment.

Downside was that the area where "Meadowbrook Institute" is located is dark and lifeless. There's no energy around the area making it quite easy for the average Haunt guest to slip by without noticing. It would have been neat to have some lighting on the attraction's signage and some "nurses" going around suggesting the idea of getting examined at the facility. The actors at the front desk played their part rather well and to be honest, we would have to say that they were on par with a Disney cast member that's really gotten into their character. But this whole opportunity can easily be missed as it seems to get a bit lost among the rest of the Haunt energy in the park.

UPDATE: After 3 days of operation Cedar Fair has decided to close FearVR due to some contorversy and FearVR will no longer be part of Haunt's lineup.

FearVR is kind of lost in a closed kids area of the park with not a lot of decoration or
atmosphere to bring people to the new hi-tech attraction and signage is hard to see at night.

Skeleton Keys now serve as their own stand-alone attractions and are accessible via the Fright Lane Plus. There are 5 experiences total, each offering a unique interactive experience. While we won't give anything away, some of the locations were done up pretty elaborate! Outside the Skeleton Key rooms however were a bit hard to spot as there was only a cutout of a CGA skeleton key lit up by RGB LEDs, also a bit easy to miss. Hopefully something more elaborate can be done outside the rooms to make it easier to spot at night. We also initially had no clue which room we were actually about to experience until we were next in line. This made it somewhat of a surprise to us as we wanted to go in blindly and not know what to expect.

These skinny signs indicate a Skeleton Key attraction.
They are a bit hard to find at night.

While we don't want to give all the details away in the mazes, we are excited to say that 2 of the mazes that seemed to have aged the most (Cornstalkers and Toy Factory) got some significant improvements and now provide a pretty fresh experience.

We didn't get a ton of photos from opening night as we were soaking in the atmosphere and trying to experience everything. Here are a few snaps from around the park.

What's an aviation-themed coaster without a passenger jet?

Patriot is popping with its blue, a nice compliment to the bright red Flight Deck next door :)

We've always loved the waterfront queue for Wax Museum.

This was just one of many improvements to the Haunt mazes!

Overall, we felt like we had a solid opening night and didn't really have any disappointments or negative first impressions. We look forward to our next Haunt visit as we join American Coaster Enthusiasts for the "ACE Night at the Haunt V."

Did you get to experience opening night? What was your favorite Haunt attraction? Let us know in the comments below!


California's Great America Pre Haunt and Patriot Update

The time of year between Labor Day and the start of the Halloween season has for a long time been one of if not the least crowded time to visit any theme park, and with California’s Great America, this was no exception. In as recently as the past 5 years, parks have found ways to increase attendance during this once “dead” time of the year. Disney does it with the marathons and food festivals, and Six Flags and Cedar Fair now do it by increasing the number of Bring-A-Friend days. CGA recently adopted this strategy: every Sunday until the end of Haunt, pass holders can bring up to 4 friends for a fixed fee of $24.99. This turned what would have previously been a “ghost town” into a moderately busy day, though not as busy as during peak summer season and Haunt. While we miss the almost empty park, this is a good business move. Perhaps the park can get moving with its rezoning and expansion a little quicker now. ;)

The post-Labor Day weekends are also a good time to check up on Haunt progress, and this year there’s a little more to look at with the repainting work on what was Vortex, and will soon be Patriot. Haunt 2016 looks to be a particularly great one, with the plussing of existing mazes and a complete overhaul of the Skeleton Key experience. First, Skeleton Key is exclusive to the Fright Lane Plus package, which grants front of the line access to each maze as well as the Skeleton Key rooms, used once per maze. Second, the Skeleton Key rooms themselves have been completely reimagined. No longer are they extensions to the existing mazes, they are now standalone experiences, each with their own theme and story. You can learn the details on the official Haunt website at http://www.cagreatamerica.com/haunt. Without further ado, its time for some pre-Haunt 2016 photos!
Definitely more crowded than one would expect on a post-Labor Day Sunday

“Vortriot” as we call it now has its entire lift hill painted, a few supports still need work though.

Closer up of the lift's apex, and the transition from the shiny new blue to the old faded purple.

Looking good! When finished, the ride will contrast nicely with Flight Deck’s red.

Vortex is now closed forever, and will reopen as Patriot next season.

Can almost barely recognize this blue and gray B&M!

Patriot will definitely pop!

Did you get to take your #LastStand on Vortex over the past few weeks? Here's a little video tribute we put together during the final times of operation for the 2nd oldest B&M Stand Up coaster built.

Now we transition into the Haunt portion of the update. A lot of familiar things are returning but we are also excited to say that it looks like a lot of these familiar elements are getting some love and enhancements! Let's take a quick walk around the park and check out the Haunt stuff!

The park is transforming once again.

Wax Museum, one of Haunt’s best looking mazes, has yet to take shape.

Planet Snoopy also gets its Halloween overlay

Killer Clown Town is returning this year and is beginning to rise in Planet Snoopy.

These props should look familiar to Haunt veterans.

Zombie High received some new signage.

Mazes are getting plussed this year. Here we see some new exterior work for Toy Factory.

Over at Cornstalkers, the plussing is a lot more visible, with the addition of numerous wooden structures.

When holidays collide... :)

Madame Marie’s Massacre Manor, one of our all time favorites, returns again this year.

And now, a tribute to CGA Haunt’s history.

Blood Drums is set up where one would previously enter to see the amazing Blades of Horror show, which is sadly not happening this season due to shifting developmental resources to Winterfest. But fear not, it is only on hiatus, and could possibly make a return next year.

Is Roadkill Roadhouse getting different signage this year?

Nytewalkers gets set up, complete with a new stage configuration.

Dia De Los Muertos looks ready to go.

A couple years ago, there would hardly be a car in the lot.

Thanks for reading, and we can’t wait for Haunt this year!

Are you excited for Haunt and the upcoming Patriot? Let us know in the comments below!