November 2023

Easing the Pain of Ride Breakdowns

I recently returned from a few days in Southern California to visit Knott’s Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain for the first time since 2019.

Being that it was my first visit since before the pandemic, I was thrilled to hit my favorite rides, after wondering three years ago if I would ever have the opportunity again.

The primary purpose of my visit was for both parks’ Halloween spectaculars. Word of advice: try every other theme park Halloween event before going to Knott’s Scary Farm. Knott’s haunt is second to none, and will seriously ruin every other due to the impossibly high bar it sets.

If my trip, however, was just for the rides, I would’ve been sorely disappointed.

Two of my favorite roller coasters at Knott’s Berry Farm have been down for a combined total of nearly three years. At Magic Mountain, another two of my favorites were shut tight, while many others were running only one train, which automatically doubles the amount of time it takes to ride.

Even worse, I experienced multiple breakdowns while waiting in lines, including one coaster that “experienced a temporary delay” twice in the hour-and-fifteen minutes I was standing in line. Maybe next year, Full Throttle.

The ride closures, breakdowns and overall uncertainty over operations got me thinking: how can parks handle this unfortunate reality better?

In a post on LinkedIn, Neil Wilson, a theme park industry veteran whose resume includes stints at Walt Disney World and Alton Towers, described a recent breakdown he experienced at the Bourne Stuntacular ride at Universal Orlando, an action show that combines virtual screens with real-life props and actors.

The stage manager took to the stage to address the audience, first to apologize to the crowd, but then took the time to describe all the complex technical aspects of the performance in an interesting way that gave the audience an inside look at how everything operates.

This interaction goes above and beyond what most other parks do when their attractions break down, oftentimes telling people they can leave or wait until things get back up and running. Here, the audience can get some sort of entertaining experience for the amount of time they waited in line.

Time wasted is the biggest gripe most park-goers will cite when asked what frustrated them the most because of a breakdown. What else can be done?

Offering those in line food discounts or front-of-the-line passes would help ease the pain.

While most parks have TVs in line that screen advertisements or trivia, take it a step further by offering an app where people stuck in line can compete with their fellow park-goers for prizes through games on their devices.

At the very least, there should be benches and constant shade in line for those of us exhausted from being on our feet all day.

Boardwalk introduces two new rides for 2024

In a previous column, I wrote that the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was in the process of adding a new Ferris wheel after the ride’s six-year absence.

The Boardwalk made the news official recently, unveiling a name for the ride, Dream Wheel, and a targeted spring 2024 opening date.

The Dream Wheel, at 65 feet tall, replaces Rock & Roll, the spinning and swinging ‘50s-themed car ride that has been dishing tunes since 2002 near the first drop of the Giant Dipper.

The colorful ride, which is sure to make a splash in the Boardwalk’s skyline, will feature 15 gondolas that can sit up to four adults or six children at a time.

“Ferris wheels are as much a part of a classic seaside amusement park experience as wooden roller coasters, carousels and cotton candy,” Boardwalk spokesperson Kris Reyes said. “We are thrilled to add Dream Wheel to our lineup of amazing rides, and I know our guests will love the stunning views.”

Also coming in 2024 around Memorial Day weekend is Surge, replacing the long-standing Cliff Hanger ride.

Surge is a spinning and tilting ride that can seat up to 24 riders on a dizzying 360-degree journey.

Save the Dates

Holiday Season: Our regional parks are once again ready to get festive. Most events begin near the end of November. Check their websites for dates and times.

New Year’s Eve Celebration: Gilroy Gardens will ring in the New Year with a dance party, food, fireworks and more.

May 17, 2024: The Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk celebrates its 100th birthday. What will be in store for the momentous occasion?

By Erik Chalhoub

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