Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk holiday
December 2019

Finding the Right Gift for the Thrill-Seeker

Always Amused: December 2019

By Erik Chalhoub

Have a theme park fanatic in your family, but don’t know what to give them for the holidays? You’ve come to the right article.

Erik Chalhoub

It’s a well-known fact of life that theme parks are an expensive hobby: tickets, season passes, parking, hotels, airfare, etc. are not kind on the wallet. But savvy shoppers looking to give the gift of thrills this holiday season know the who, what, when and where for the best deals.

Here are some suggestions that will hopefully make your shopping easier.

To Pass or Not to Pass?

In a previous column for Growing Up in Santa Cruz, I described in detail when you should, or should not, buy a season pass for your favorite park. To recap: If you plan on visiting one park at least twice in the year, then a season pass pays for itself after the second visit. If you are only visiting once in the year, then a single admission ticket is the way to go.

Most parks in our region have their best deals on season passes in September/October. It’s a great time to purchase them ahead and save them for December (although Six Flags parks require you to process your pass in person before November, so pay attention).

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is offering a free $15 MyBoardwalk Card on purchases of season passes before Jan. 5. Passes are $81.95 each, but it’s a good deal for Santa Cruz locals who will get the most visits out of it.

For the younger set, California’s Great America’s free Pre-K pass allows children ages 3-5 to visit the park for the entire year. A Gold pass at Great America also gives you free admission (but not parking) to Gilroy Gardens, a two-for-one deal.

Park Swag

If your coaster nut has already renewed every one of their season passes into the foreseeable future, you’re not out of luck for the holidays.

All parks have an abundance of stores selling themed merchandise, from coffee cups, stuffed animals, clothes, action figures and more. I recommend gifting a T-shirt with the recipient’s favorite coaster on it.

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk holiday

There’s nothing quite like riding your favorite coaster with its logo emblazoned on the front of your shirt. 

Good deals can be found at the end of the year, when parks are trying to clear out their inventory to make room for next season’s merch.

Thrills from Home

As much as they may want to, your thrill-seeker can’t visit their favorite park every day.

So give them the next best thing: RollerCoaster Tycoon, available for PC, Mac, smart phones and other gaming consoles.

The pioneer theme park design video game allows the user to build their own coasters from scratch and build a park around them. Users have complete control over the layout of their parks, right down to the restrooms. You can even take a spin on your crazy creations.

A relative newcomer to the scene is Planet Coaster, available for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which has been well-received by critics.

For the advanced gamer, NoLimits Roller Coaster Simulation is right up their alley. Chances are you’ve seen the computer-generated videos on YouTube that parks use to promote a new ride under construction. This is that software.

A Model Gift

Most theme park fans are avid collectors, gathering everything from park maps, pins and even old season pass cards.

But you have the chance to give them the pinnacle of their collection: a roller coaster model.

Coasterdynamix ( sells various small-scale, but realistic models of coasters, as well as limited edition models of actual rides, such as X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

There are also numerous LEGO roller coaster sets on the market, many of which are functional and customizable.

Get into the Spirit

With all this talk about shopping, it’s easy to forget that the holidays are meant to be spent with family. And there are plenty of opportunities to do so at our local theme parks.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s Holiday Ice runs through Jan. 5. A 32-by-90-foot covered ice skating rink has been constructed in the main entrance, and guests can reserve a one-hour session that includes skates. The event also includes holiday movie screenings, crafts, lights and more.

theme park holidays

WinterFest, running through Dec. 31 at California’s Great America, fills the park with light displays and décor, live holiday shows, more than 60 rides and holiday attractions, ice skating and holiday dining fare.

Gilroy Gardens’ Holiday event runs select nights through Dec. 30. 

Like any hobby, there is no shortage of theme park-related gifts out there. The suggestions above should help you find that perfect gift for the thrill-seeker in your family.

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