July 2018

Fly and Get Wet in Two New Area Amusements: Always Amused

By Erik Chalhoub

For those of us who live in Santa Cruz County, we are lucky when it comes to finding thrills the whole family can enjoy.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, named the best seaside amusement park for 10 years by Amusement Today, is right in our backyard.

But we are also fortunate that two stellar parks, Gilroy Gardens and California’s Great America, are both within an hour’s drive from us. And 2018 is shaping up to be a major year for both of them.

Gilroy Gardens, nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains on 3050 Hecker Pass Highway, expanded its Water Oasis area this year. The expansion added four new water slides for older children, as well as a new water play area complete with a tipping bucket that splashes more than 300 gallons of water. Rounding out the area is more than 90 spray jets, family cabanas and other water play features.

“We are so excited to welcome guests to the bigger, better Water Oasis,” said Gilroy Gardens General Manager Barb Granter. “We know that many families have been eagerly watching the construction going on.”

The expansion was constructed next to the park’s original Water Oasis area, which opened in 2014. The new area, however, meant the demise of Gilroy Garden’s rock maze attraction, which opened with the park in 2001.

Gilroy Gardens is gearing up for new attractions that aim to increase attendance.

The Water Oasis expansion is part of Gilroy Gardens’ master plan over the next five years, which Granter presented to the Gilroy City Council in March 2017. The plan includes further expansion of the water park to appeal to older kids, as well as a ropes course, learning centers, expanded picnic areas and more.

No new roller coasters are planned in the future, Granter told the city council.

Gilroy Gardens has a number of events lined up for the summer and the rest of the year. For information, visit www.gilroygardens.org.

About 30 minutes north of Gilroy Gardens on Highway 101, California’s Great America in Santa Clara recently opened RailBlazer, a new type of roller coaster that is turning the industry on its head, literally.

Designed by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction, eight riders traverse in a single file train on a single rail, giving them a unique perspective as they plunge down a 90-degree first drop. After a 45-degree lift hill that reaches a height of 106 feet, RailBlazer travels at a top speed of 52 mph through three inversions and a zero gravity roll.

But most importantly, it features an abundance of what roller coaster enthusiasts such as myself live for and what has been missing from Northern California coasters for far too long: airtime.

With fast leaps, dips and twists, you won’t be in your seat very long as you zip past water, mountains and bystanders who eagerly await their turn to ride.

RailBlazer is themed to the Bay Area and Central Coast’s scenery that is connected by Highway 1. Theming elements include a natural waterway and rocky surroundings, and at the bottom of the first drop, the train flies through a rocky tunnel at top speed.

“For those of you who have ridden it, I can tell you and you can tell me: one minute of pure adrenaline,” Raul Rehnborg, vice president and general manager of California’s Great America, told a crowd gathered during the ride’s opening ceremony on June 14.

Just like Gilroy Gardens, Great America is in the midst of a multi-year master plan that will, among other things, add new rides and attractions as well as a marketplace outside its main gates. The park is already full steam ahead with its next attraction, as it removed its classic Logger’s Run flume ride and other attractions, opening up prime real estate for something big. We will have to stay tuned to see what is coming.

For ticket information, upcoming special events and more at the park, visit www.cagreatamerica.com.

Looking to go on a family road trip this summer? There are many new rides making their debut this year at parks throughout California.

About an hour north of Great America, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo recently opened Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster, a first-of-its-kind attraction that sends dueling trains through a figure-eight track.

In the Los Angeles area, Six Flags Magic Mountain is getting ready to open CraZanity, billed as the largest swinging pendulum ride in the world at 172 feet. Knott’s Berry Farm has also opened Hangtime, which is the first dive coaster on the West Coast.

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