Vortex to go Floorless in 2017 as Patriot

Press photo courtesy of California's Great America
Several years back, sister park Cedar Point converted their stand up coaster Mantis into a floorless coaster similar to Medusa at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. It wasn't long for rumors to pop up that Vortex would get a similar treatment to breath life into an otherwise uncomfortable ride.

Vortex takes a dive down the first drop.

Stand up coasters are infamous for providing discomfort to riders, especially if they aren't restrained properly (feet not exactly flat on the floor, had seen some riders ride Vortex "floorless" before whilst straddled on the rather uncomfortable bicycle-like saddle). While not all stand up coasters are rough (We enjoyed Riddler's Revenge down at Six Flags Magic Mountain), Vortex has been known for being one of the roughest B&M coasters out there. Stand up coasters also appeared to be a fad that lived through the 1990s, with the last stand up coaster being built in 1999 (Georgia Scorcher at Six Flags over Georgia).

Riddler's Revenge, California's 2nd stand up coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain,
the better of the 2 stand up experiences in CA with slightly more comfy trains and smoother ride.

We received word from California's Great America that Vortex will get a makeover, being converted to a floorless coaster, being repainted, and being renamed as Patriot. Riders will be able to get their "last stand" in on September 5th before Vortex closes for the season. The Bay Area will be the first region to feature 2 floorless coasters within less than 90 drive apart from each other, and Patriot will be the 3rd floorless coaster in California (With Scream and Medusa being the other 2, a 6 hour drive apart from each other). While Patriot will be a significantly shorter/slower/compact layout compared to its soon to be cousin in the North Bay, being converted into something that won't provide discomfort will be a welcome addition.

Official Press Release from Great America:

SANTA CLARA, CA – Today California’s Great America announced that for the 2017 season, it will introduce Patriot, the first floorless coaster in the park’s 41-year history. Patriot will emerge from the soon to be retired Vortex coaster, the oldest stand up roller coaster in the United States.  (Vortex was actually the second floorless)

Patriot will take riders to a 91-foot height before plummeting them into a 360-degree loop at 45 miles per hour. Patriot’s position in the park makes it a dynamic visual from three different sections of Great America.

The inspiration for the coaster’s name was taken from the fact that the ride is nestled adjacent to All American Corners within a park whose name celebrates America. 

The transition from a stand up to floorless ride will include state-of-the-art blue and white trains positioning guests with their feet dangling above the blue and white track.

“With the track visible beneath their feet, Patriot will create unique and exciting new perspectives throughout the ride,” said California’s Great America Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg.

Guests can take their “Last Stand” on Vortex through September 5. Then work will begin to ready Patriot for the 2017 season.

Vortex was the 2nd B&M coaster ever produced (opened in 1991), the first one being "Iron Wolf" in 1990 at former sister park, Six Flags Great America. Vortex opened in 1991. Strangely enough, Six Flags Great America added the first B&M invert that following year, Batman. A year later, CGA added the 2nd B&M invert, Flight Deck (Formerly Top Gun).

Iron Wolf was relocated, repainted and renamed at another Six Flags property after it closed in 2011 and remains a stand up coaster at its existing location. Vortex, soon to be Patriot, will continue to live on as one of the earliest B&M coasters built and hopefully will provide a smoother, more comfortable ride experience.

We found the name to be fitting for the America-themed park as the coaster is situated alongside the "All American Corners" of the park (also known as the "1950s area to some") and the ride's entrance is situated in the area that was once known as "Hometown Square" (Now Celebration Plaza). The bright blue will be a nice visual and refreshing to see as Vortex has become faded over the years. Vortex was originally a striking lime green track with black supports and was repainted in the late 90s as purple/yellow track with white supports.

Press photo courtesy of California's Great America

After September 5th, it's "lights out" for Vortex.
What are your thoughts about the floorless conversion? We'd like to hear! Let us know in the comment section below.


Kong to go "VR" for Fright Fest 2016 at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

The VR (Virtual Reality) fad continues to spread among the Six Flags properties as Discovery Kingdom's Kong attraction will be getting the VR addition for Fright Fest. "Rage of the Gargoyles" is being dubbed "Northern CA's first VR Coaster," in which riders wear specialized headsets that play back a virtual world as you pilot a helicopter through the city. When you turn your head, the camera also rotates. The camera itself follows a path that's identical to the roller coaster's track layout.

It was also noted that Kong will be receiving modified restraints - we're hoping for the newer "vest style" restraints that will provide a much better ride. While the VR will be an interesting feature, we're actually more excited about the modified restraints, which will bring Kong to a more comfortable ride. Currently, Kong (along with other Vekoma SLC's) are infamous for providing rides with "head banging" and uncomfortable jerking motions. Kong's current restraints feel like they're punching you in the ears and beating the rest of your body up.

Modifying the restraints would also be a wise move because of the headsets that are being worn. I've already had discomfort from wearing my sunglasses on the ride and opted to just take them off despite the secure strap I had. Having a much more bulky item could provide more discomfort with existing restraints, not to mention the possibility of the headset getting knocked off.

Here's the official word from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom's press release:

Get Ready to Engage in an Epic Battle in Rage of the Gargoyles, Northern California’s First Virtual Reality Coaster
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to Debut Innovative Horror-Themed VR Coaster Experience for Fright Fest
VALLEJO, Calif. — August 5, 2016 The ultimate interactive Virtual Reality (VR) coaster experience, featuring Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus, is coming to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom this fall as demonic creatures battle terrified riders in the all-new Rage of the Gargoyles debuting on Kong, the park’s floorless looping roller coaster, just in time for Fright Fest® starting September 24.
“Six Flags is the leader in innovation and thrills and we are excited to introduce the VR coaster experiences to our guests at Discovery Kingdom,” said Don McCoy, park president. “In Rage of the Gargoyles, the experience is immersive and terrifying as riders shoot at the demons throughout the entire ride ‒ the perfect addition to our Fright Fest line-up.”
Among the thrilling highlights:
·        High-definition imagery and storytelling that sync with the track configuration creating a one-of-a-kind “real world” to “virtual world” thrill-ride;
·        For the first time ever on a rollercoaster, riders can engage in interactive gaming throughout the entire ride experience by shooting at flying demons; and
·        Unique sophisticated head-movement targeting to instantly lock on a moving target without the need for a touchpad or buttons to fire.
The realistic theme puts the rider in the action similar to a video game experience. Riders are pilots seated in the cockpit of an Apache-style helicopter, flying through a devastated cityscape of a dark and dreary future as part of a fleet of choppers ready to battle winged creatures to the end. Both the pilot and their realistic foes are virtually engaged in a battle all while racing over the 2,170 feet of twisting, turning, looping coaster track.
The action starts quickly when riders ascend up the lift hill while realistic, blood-thirsty gargoyles terrorize them by scratching and clawing, jumping mercilessly atop the seemingly fragile glass barrier as the rider tries desperately to shoot their demonic targets. The epic conflict accelerates as riders are forced to navigate through the hazardous city streets, up and over broken-down skyscrapers while avoiding obstacles and lethal assaults from the gargoyles, all the while shooting to repel the demons. It is up to the pilot to attack the vicious master gargoyle, who is vehement on challenging anyone who crosses his path. There is a surprise ending that will be sure to leave riders shocked and amazed.
Kong will close after August and make its Virtual Reality debut with modified restraints and enhanced track work. Guests 13 and older may opt to ride with the VR headset or without, to enjoy Kong as a traditional coaster attraction. Fright Fest is Northern California’s biggest and scariest Halloween event as the park is completely transformed for thrills by day and fright by night, and features haunted mazes, scare zones and monstertainment.


The Joker Ride Review! New RMC coaster at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom!

Back in September Six Flags Discovery Kingdom surprised all of us with the announcement of The Joker - the Rocky Mountain Construction hybrid conversion of the former Roar roller coaster. Roar had seen better days (Ride was amazingly smooth its opening year, we had rode it a few months after its opening day). Unfortunately Roar was in pretty bad shape right down to feeling what felt like a pothole at the bottom of the initial drop. Easiest solution was to give the coaster the "RMC treatment."

A unique view of Roar and Joker, side-by-side

 The ride originally was set to open Memorial Day Weekend but has been experiencing some difficulties and all-day closures as well as single train ops for the past few weeks. Several other RMC coasters around the nation and internationally have also had a rocky start, hopefully those will be running soon. In our case, we decided it was best to wait this out a bit to let the kinks get worked out, and check with the park whether if it is back up and running before taking the trek up to Vallejo (Thank you Six Flags for quick response on letting us know!).

To our surprise, The Joker was running both trains and from the times we were in line to ride it, had only quickly gone down and back up twice. With this said, we managed to squeeze in 5 rides on it on this moderately busy summer Saturday (which was also a Bring the Friend day for season pass holders).

Before we get to talking about the ride experience, let's talk about what you'll be doing before you ride. Average wait times with a partially filled queue was about 40-45 minutes, dispatch times were average. Riders are instructed to put on their seatbelts but leave the lap bars up which slows things down a bit. Several riders throughout the day were denied their rides as some of the rows (towards the middle on the green train) appear to have really picky lap bar sensors - needing to be much tighter than the rest of the rows. Riders of an average body build, not necessarily overweight, ended up not getting to ride after their 45 minute wait which is really a shame. Especially if they rode it earlier in the day with no problems.

Some shade, the queue could use more though as during the morning you will be baking in the sun.

Giant 3d sculpted clown mouth looks really good!

The queue itself has partial shade but has a stretch of switchbacks out in the sun. A very light and repetative carnival/funhouse music loop plays. Fortunately it's fairly quiet so you won't feel like going insane after hearing it for that hour in line. Before you know it though, you're approaching the large clown's mouth and on your way up to the ride platform. You are treated with a nice view of the pre lift of the Joker.

A train full of happy riders return to the station...
....many requesting to ride it again!

The ride itself was insane and a solid coaster to the SFDK coaster lineup. Starting out with the pre-lift, the Joker lets you know immediately that this ride is no joke when it comes to airtime. The first hump as you turn out of the station actually gave us some mild ejector airtime in the front row and in the back and was a complete surprise and different contrast to its cousin, Twisted Colossus down at Magic Mountain (which felt more mild to us). The pre lift section also delivers a blend of light airtime combined with laterals before approaching the lift.

Do not be fooled by this cute little airtime hill.
We were lifted right out of our seats!

Train approaches the pre-lift section after feeling like being "launched" out of the station!

The drop brings you the ride's first moment of ejector air which is best felt in the back. Sitting up toward the front didn't lift us out of the seat much but it did force us into our seats at the bottom of the drop. Following the initial steep drop is the "Step Up Under Roll" or as we like to describe it as an inclined dive loop. The inversion felt pretty unique and smooth and depending on the row you get, you get some nice zero-g moment as you head upward. We found the sweet spot for that moment to be toward the middle of the train. As you exit the roll, you face some nice positive forces as you make way to the stall - which gives you some nice floaty hangtime in any of the rows.

78-degree initial drop, can really feel it in the back half of the train!

The Step Up Under Roll
In the middle, you feel some nice zero-g moments!

Our favorite part of the ride, the Zero G Stall! It's like having inverted airtime!

Next up is the breaking wave turn which has an unusual outward banked hill ejecting you outward before you are plastered in your seat as you bank hard to the right. Exiting the braking wave turn, you experience a really strong pop of ejector air, followed by another strong pop. The overbank following the hump provides  some nice positives.

Airtime isn't done yet. Probably our favorite part of the ride is the double camel back which is literally a 1-2 punch of airtime! After hitting another overbank turn with some nice forces, you float through the final inversion (felt in every row) followed by another sharply banked and forceful turn before you face your final bit of ejector air.

As you exit the ride, you do a typical theme park tradition - exiting through the gift shop. In here you can get DC themed merchandise, Joker souvenirs, and your Joker onride photos.

Joker-themed merchandise and some of the very few ride-related souvenir t-shirts you can get at the park.

Thrills by the Bay crew taking in a back car ride on The Joker!

Joker is insane. We felt like the ride is a good well-rounded coaster with a nice blend of inversions, strong positives and plenty of airtime. While it's an all arounder, we felt like it excelled in just about every aspect of the ride rather than just being a standard "jack of all trades" kind of ride. Our favorite row was in the back. We encourage you to try out different rows to see what you like the best as each row provides a slightly different experience. We are very excited and happy to have an RMC coaster literally right in our backyards now. This was RMC's first venture revamping a Great Coasters International twister coaster and we felt like they did a wonderful job using the existing canvas and giving it that RMC flavor.

Did you get to experience The Joker? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! How did it compare to Roar? And if you had been on Twisted Colossus (another RMC creation down at Six Flags Magic Mountain), how do you think it compared to that?


Mass Effect New Earth - California's Great America - Media Day and Review

In the world of linking intellectual properties with amusement rides, we've seen almost everything, from comics to movies, from children's cartoon characters to popular TV shows... There's one type of IP that hasn't been used in the amusement world, and that is video games.

Cool replica of the Normandy ship from the Mass Effect series that we received.

Mass Effect New Earth is based on the critically acclaimed Mass Effect video game franchise and publisher EA Games and developer Bioware partnered with Cedar Fair to revamp the aging Action Theater. AFX has seen a number of ride films in the past but nothing that really stood out and nothing really unique to the park. At the end of 2015, the Action Theater was closed and gutted to make way for updated technology including new motion based seats with extra effects that the riders can feel, an upgraded sound system that's capable of beaming sound directly to the riders (has 70 different speakers), and a brand new 3D LED screen. The screen itself is a bit larger than 4K resolution and is made up of a bunch of individual LEDs as pixels. LEDs provide a much richer display of colors and true blacks, and also can provide a more convincing 3D image. The added benefit to the convincing 3D is that riders won't get nauseous. Nausea comes from when the 3D doesn't translate with the riders and in fact confuses their minds.

Courtesy of California's Great America

Courtesy of California's Great America

Courtesy of California's Great America

Courtesy of California's Great America

The event kicked off with some opening speeches from EA Games and those involved with the attraction before the Great America tradition of pyrotechnics fired off.

Impressions from our first 3 rides on it.  

Warning: Spoilers, if you haven't ridden it yet, we recommend skipping this section and going to the photos below.

Highlight to read plot of attraction

The ride is themed to a getaway to Terra Nova via the Mass Relay Getaways. For those unfamiliar with Mass Effect, the Mass Relay is a device that allows one to instantaneously travel between locations. The ships fly by this massive structure, complete with a glowing blue core and a gyroscope and then take off at light speed (which reminded us of the whole light speed sequence on Disneyland's Star Tours attraction). Of course a journey to Terra Nova can't go on without something going wrong. Riders are attacked by one of the game's creatures (complete with 4d effects including water spray and a nasty odor that smelt somewhat similar to the Alviso dumps not far from the park). After getting through the mess we finally safely arrive to Terra Nova.

Thoughts about the ride: We were impressed by the high resolution LED screen. Walking into the theater, I had to keep reminding myself that the doors on screen were just illuminated pixels and not an actual physical prop. The crisp images make it look like a physical object.

The door looks like an actual physical prop. The live actor adds to the effect and bridges the gap of what's
on screen and what is reality.

Waiting in line during the summer is going to be brutal as there's no shade in the queue and each showing is about 4 minutes. The attraction is definitely worth checking out, just bring some sunscreen and we recommend heading to the ride in the morning when it's cooler or later in the day when the shade from the building covers the queue.

Shade? Please?

The live actor was an interesting feature and added to the experience. Having a live actor present helped contribute to the 3D effect and the actor in which was our pilot interacted seamlessly with the fantasy world.

Exiting the ride felt like there could have been something to further show Mass Effect which could have included some props and maybe some video game footage, showing non gamers more about the Mass Effect Universe. Otherwise it's a long gray hallway with a few images. An idea to throw out there if EA and Cedar Fair really wanted to pull it off - set up a few demo consoles where people can play a quick segment of Mass Effect. Originally this area housed an arcade anyway.

Inside the theater was really well done and what had done inside there was way more than what we expected. It's no longer just a plain black room with a blank silver screen. You feel like you're walking into a ship. The "idle image" coming in are the ship's view port doors which look like a physical prop.

Looking back at passengers as they board the refurbished Terra Nova Cruiser

The exterior of the theater with ride pre-show

Bridging the gap between gamers and non-gamers

Mass Effect New Earth is enjoyable even for those who have never touched the games, like myself. Gamers will be familiar with some of the in-game characters and such from the franchise also making it an enjoyable experience for them. This ride could even have potential to introduce one to Mass Effect and urge them to buy a copy of the game.

We highly recommend checking out this 4D holographic experience and it's a more than welcome addition to the park's lineup of attractions. The theming inside the theater was well put together, the attraction itself is enjoyable for both the general public, gamers, and even park enthusiasts.

Here is a video (20 minutes long) of the ceremony and an authorized in-theater recording.

Did you get to experience Mass Effect New Earth yet? How do you like it compared to some of the other simulators out there? Let us know in the comments below.


California's Great Ameica Unveils Future Plans

We just got through opening weekend at California's Great America when we found out about Great America's rather bright future. Matt Ouimet, Cedar Fair's CEO was at CGA today to discuss the direction Cedar Fair wants the park to go. In the end, this eliminated all of the rumors of the park going under on various theme park fan sites and shows the commitment Cedar Fair has with the park.

While Cedar Fair owns and operates the park, the City of Santa Clara owns the land the park sits on. Cedar Fair plans on purchasing the land and is filing an application to rezone the property. Currently, Cedar Fair has a long-term lease on the land that goes to 2074. The long term goals they have with the park include a number of things that will make this a destination to go to, and would include the following:

  • New Front Gate Entertainment/Shopping District (Think Downtown Disney or Knott's Marketplace)
  • Revamp/Rebranding of the Water Park (currently Boomerang Bay...Can we call this Yankee Harbor Water Park?) as well as expansion and new entry
  • New Major Coaster
  • Family Rides
  • Water Coaster (Yankee Clipper 2.0 anyone?)
  • Entrance Plaza

Image Courtesy of 1590 KLIV-AM

We've been looking at this image and looks like the area highlighted in Orange could be tied with other things like Stadium Events. While we don't want to stir up any rumors, we found it interesting that Logger's Run is highlighted as part of the Boomerang Bay attractions.

This is what got us really excited! That's a lot of rides! 6 200-foot rides?

Right now though this is all an idea/concept and only time will tell as to what's to come as there's a number of studies to be conducted (noise, traffic, environmental impact, proximity to SJC) but hopefully in the next year or so we'll start seeing some of these things come to life! In short, CGA isn't going to be sold off to make way for more houses we don't need, or more empty offices in Silicon Valley (Yes, there's a lot of vacant offices in the vicinity).

What do you think of this announcement? Let us know in the comments below!


California's Great America Opening Day 2016

We're back from the opening day at California's Great America and overall was a pleasant day. The park kicked their 40th year off with giving out free cinch bags (complete with old school Marriott-era Great America logo) to the first 2500 guests. Crowds were light today so a huge number of guests walking around the park today all had their bags in tow.

Probably the coolest 40th Anniversary souvenirs we've seen so far!

 Opening day though is expected to arrive with several kinks that will be worked out over the coming weekends. Some of these kinks included slower operations (as ride attendants get accustomed to their roles), some infrastructure glitches (season pass discounts), slower operations at food services  - the available staff that was present had their hands full with everything and they did everything they could to get food out, but the lack of staff initially made it a bit rough for both employees and guests alike. Kudos though to both guests and employees for being patient and handling things rather well (at least the line we were in everyone kept their cool).

Plus side, the crowds were light so that made for the majority of the rides a minimal wait or a walk on. We also saw numerous park improvements as we made our way around the park. The Games Gallery near Drop Tower looks so much better now as it takes on a more vibrant color scheme as opposed to the gloomy gray colors from the Paramount era. In fact, all the new color in the area sort of makes Drop Tower, one of the focal points in the area, look a bit more faded.

New this season in food services was the "All Season Souvenir Cup" where your cup gets you unlimited refills all season long (as opposed to the 99-cent refills for the rest of the season). We opted to get the cup as we're frequently at the park and know it will come in handy when those hot summer days roll in.

Mass Effect did not open with the park but will be opening some point later this spring. It looks like there's still a bit of work to be done but it's hard to tell as everything is enclosed. The queue for the theater has been expanded outward and unfortunately as it currently stands, there is no shade. Until later toward the evening when the surrounding trees shade the queue, guests are going to be roasting in the blazing sun. Hopefully some kind of shade structure will be in the works.

The building received a skin over the operating side as an element of theming, making it look much like the exterior of a space ship. Also upgraded were the pre show monitors, previously they used the older CRT monitors which were hard to see in the daytime hours.

Bonus park feature for 2016: Great America now has free Wifi! As much as we should be enjoying our day with our families and friends, having a wifi hotspot is convenient. For those of us who do live updates at the park, this is a plus. Wifi seemed to come and go but overall it did the job (not that we needed to constantly be online :) ).

Other notable features from today were the following:

New Rapids queue, more ADA-friendly with wider ramps going up

New game cards for the arcades - replacing the antiquated token system (there goes the days of finding some random stray tokens on the ground to play a quick game :) ). Better off using the cards though, wouldn't want a bunch of tokens pouring out of a pocket when on a ride.

Drop Tower - number of things to mention here. First off, all 6 cabins were functioning on opening day! We hope they can keep all 6 running now as it will help the line significantly! Also, the cabins were repainted. Wonder if a tower repaint is in the works for the near future... Lastly (Didn't get any photos) they replaced the ugly gray wooden panels on the air gates with a natural color panel with curved edges, matching the curved edge shape of the metal airgates.

Riders in Cabin 1 (which is usually never working) prepare to ascend 200+ feet.
Here's a few other additional photos we snapped from throughout the day just out of pure randomness.

Flight Deck red still really pops!

Firefall did open with the park this season.


HMB Endeavor (AKA Revolution, or as we've nicknamed it "Endeavolution")


Gold Striker via fisheye lens, really captures the twisty nature of this ride!

Gold Striker from above (complete with graffiti on the tower's windows...)
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