Santa Cruz amusement parks
December 2018

A Look Back at 2018’s New Rides Holiday Events on Tap for December: Always Amused: December 2018

By Erik Chalhoub

As 2018 comes to a close, it’s time to reflect back on the new rides I experienced this year at California theme parks, while also get excited for the new-for-2019 attractions that are right around the corner.

Instead of a traditional “top five new rides list,” I’m doing something slightly different. Even though I have a clear favorite coaster and worst coaster, ranking rides, for me, has become too muddy and constantly changes as the years, and sometimes weeks, go on.

Here are my “awards” for 2018:

BEST NEW OLD RIDE: What’s old is new is a popular trend in the theme park industry today, namely the conversion of old wooden roller coasters into modern steel beasts, as well as the return of classic attractions.

I rode two new “old” rides this year: Dino Island 4-D at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, and Jammin’ Bumpers at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Dino Island originally ran at the Vallejo park in the early 1990s, showing in the Iwerks Theater, complete with moving seats and water effects. Jammin’ Bumpers, meanwhile, is an update of Magic Mountain’s original 1970s-era Sandblasters bumper cars, adding new vehicles, blasting music and strobe light effects.

I’m giving the edge to Dino Island. Ever since the Iwerks Theater reopened in 2016 following years of inactivity, the horribly outdated theater has struggled to draw riders and show a film that takes full advantage of all the theater’s built-in effects. Dino Island constantly filled the theater with guests during my late October visit, and I’ve never felt such a wide range of movements from the aging seats.

Jammin’ Bumpers, like all modern-day bumper cars, just doesn’t have the “oomph” the retro rides have (see Rue Le Dodge at California’s Great America).

NO LONGER A MAZE: When I learned that Gilroy Gardens was removing its rock maze to expand its water park, I was disappointed. Yes, the rock maze was extremely easy to get through (I could get through both forwards and backwards), but it was one of the few attractions at the park that appealed to adults as well.

But after seeing the new slides and other water features the park added this year, I am excited for this park’s future. Adding new attractions on an annual basis is key to building this park’s attendance, and when attendance grows, we all win, children and adults. Now, how about adding a wooden roller coaster, Gilroy Gardens?

BETTER TO WATCH THAN RIDE: Some rides you prefer to watch rather than take on yourself. Green Lantern at Magic Mountain comes to mind (remember earlier when I said I had a least favorite coaster?).

This year, I added another of those rides to my list: Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster at Discovery Kingdom.

The prototype ride, known as a Skywarp, pits two 16-person trains, with riders facing each other, as they travel through twin Immelmann inversions.

Being the first of its kind, the ride has been plagued with issues, causing its opening to be delayed a number of times before quietly opening in late July, nearly the end of the summer season.

While I enjoyed my one ride on it this year, it is a tad rough, and I nearly felt a headache coming on before the cycle was over. An interesting, unique ride, but it’s not making my “must-ride” list whenever I visit Discovery Kingdom.

Santa Cruz amusement parks
As much as I love RailBlazer at California's Great America, HangTime at Knott's Berry Farm (pictured) was my favorite new ride of 2018.

BIGGEST SURPRISE:  Coming into the year, I thought for sure RailBlazer at Great America was going to be my top new ride of 2018. A brand new, first-of-its-kind coaster at one of my top parks will always jump to number one for me.

But RailBlazer’s awkward shoulder restraints, and the fact that HangTime at Knott’s Berry Farm was just that good, pushed the ride to second on my top 2018 rides list.

HangTime, billed as the first dive coaster on the West Coast, sends riders up a vertical lift hill before it reaches a height of 150 feet. Then, the train dangles over the edge for what seems like forever, before taking you face-first down a beyond-vertical first drop and into a twisted mess of track.

I did not expect to ride HangTime this year. During a four-day Southern California trip in May to Magic Mountain and Knott’s, HangTime was not yet open to the public. It just so happened the park announced a special season passholder preview day for the ride, and it also just so happened that it would be the day I was there.

To make it even better? My first ride on HangTime was in the front row. Incredible.

MOST ANTICIPATED NEW RIDE OF 2019: West Coast Racers at Magic Mountain will give the park not one, but two “racing” coasters in the park. And this one has four launches. I can’t wait.

But wait, 2018 is far from over.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Holiday Ice runs through Jan. 6, and promises to be bigger than before in its second year.

The star attraction is a covered skating rink. Holiday Ice also includes displays of holiday lights and decorations, fire pits, holiday photo ops, a kids’ craft corner, classic holiday movies, photos with Santa, seasonal games, treats and more.

“This year’s Holiday Ice event is bigger and better than last year,” said event director Karley Pope. “The rink is a little larger and we’ve added more decorations, more fire pits, new fun photo ops, and more games and activities for kids. Even if you don’t skate, it’s exciting to check out all the festivities.”

For information and online skating reservations, visit beachboardwalk.com/Boardwalk-Holiday-Ice

Gardens@Night Holiday at Gilroy Gardens opened earlier this year, on Nov. 24, and runs select days through Dec. 31.

At the event, families can take pictures with Santa Claus, go ice skating and feast on roast turkey, baked ham and all the trimmings. A live show, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” will also be shown in the amphitheater.

Most rides will be open at night as well, and Santa will be at the park through Dec. 23.  For information and times, visit www.gilroygardens.org/holiday

Great America’s WinterFest is expanding this year, with the entire park now open with festive displays and millions of lights, as well as an ice skating rink in front of Columbia Carousel. For information, visit www.cagreatamerica.com/winterfest.

Gilroy Gardens' Gardens@Night Holiday runs through Dec. 31.

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